Elizabeth Fortson Wells

Associate Professor of Botany

Native and Naturalized Plants in

 Eastern North America

Department of Biological Sciences

The George Washington University

Lisner Hall 348, 2023 G Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20052


Office: (202) 994-6970

Lab: (202) 994-4584

Fax: (202) 994-6100

Email: efwells@gwu.edu

Dept. Email: biology@gwu.edu




B.A. Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA

M.A. in Botany, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1970

Ph.D. in Botany, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1977

Post-Doctoral Work: University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada


Research Interests:

Native and naturalized alien vascular plants in eastern North America, endangered plant species and habitats in Mid-Atlantic States, floristics of Mid-Atlantic States, plant community ecology in undisturbed and disturbed landscapes, vegetation analysis in the Central Appalachians, wetland vascular plant ecology, early floristics records in eighteenth century Virginia, systematics of Heuchera (Saxifragaceae).


My research focuses on monitoring native and alien vascular plant species and their communities in selected sites in the Mid-Atlantic States, especially Virginia and Maryland. In my newest endeavor, I am studying an endangered species, Harperella (Ptilimnium nodum) in the carrot family, in the Potomac River drainage of western Maryland and adjacent West Virginia. I am monitoring the known populations, analyzing their habitat, and studying the reproduction of these plants. My goal is to restore habitat and reintroduce Harperella plants to new sites within its historical range in western Maryland.


In addition, I am working on several floristic projects in the Washington area. One is a vegetation study of about 5000 acres of forests and wetlands at Fort Belvoir, Fairfax County, Virginia. The second is a study of the flood plain and upland communities on Plummers Island in the Potomac River gorge of Montgomery County, Maryland. The third is a study of the artificial wetlands of the Dulles Greenway created in 1995 and 1996. In these studies, I am monitoring native and alien species for presence and analyzing plant communities to determine the relative importance of native and alien plant species. These studies will compile information needed by the scientific community, which aspires to a better understanding of how vegetation varies with respect to local conditions, and the conservation and natural resource management community, which requires information on the abundance, conditions, and threats to conservation of natural ecosystems.


            I am also involved in a collaborative project with Dr. Richard Tollo of the GWU Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in field research concerned with understanding relationships between geological and botanical processes in natural environments within the central Appalachian Mountains. We are presently engaged in research projects concerned with investigating the following field-based topics: (1) the nature of remnant herbaceous plant communities developed at high altitudes in the central Applachians, and (2) the sequence of plant succession developed in areas affected by recent, catastrophic slope failures associated with landslides in the Virginia Blue Ridge. The high altitude project involves herbaceous plants that were formerly widespread during cooler Pleistocene climates and that remain today in the Mid-Atlantic States only at high elevations. The landslide project involves detailed documentation of the sequence of plant colonization in areas affected by recent debris slides and is particularly concerned with investigating the effects of alien plant species and mode of dispersal in reforestation of the denuded environments resulting from the landslides.




Bisc 03 The Diversity of Life, Fall

BiSc 13 Introductory Biology: The Biology of Organisms, Fall

BiSc 140 Taxonomy of Flowering Plants, Spring, Even Years

Bisc 155 Plant Ecology, Fall, Odd Years

BiSc 158 Field Botany, Fall, Even Years

BiSc 159 Geobotanical Ecology of the Central Appalachians, Spring, Odd Years



BiSc 221 Variation and Evolution in Plants, Spring, Even Years

BiSc 242 Advanced Plant Ecology, Spring, Odd Years


Recent Publications:

Wells, E. F., and R.L. Brown.  2000.  An annotated checklist of the vascular plants in the forest at historic Mount Vernon: a legacy from the past.  Castanea 65 (4): 242-257.


Wells, E. F. and R.L. Brown.  2000.  Naturalized alien plant species at Mount Vernon, Virginia.  Huntia 11(1): 31-53.


Turner, C.L., E.J. Bedker, and E.F. Wells.  1999.  Invasive exotic vegetation management plan, Fort Belvoir.  Prepared for U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Belvoir, Directorate of Installation Support, Environmental and Natural Resource Division.  Published by Paciulli, Simmons, and Associates.  36 pp. with appendices.


Wells, E.F.  1999.  Biogeographical links between Appalachian and western species of the genus Heuchera (Saxifragaceae).  Pp. 59-71 in Proceedings of the Appalachian Biogeography Symposium, Ralph Eckerlin, editor.  Martinsville, Virginia, Virginia Museum of Natural History.


Shipes, B.G., and E. F. Wells.  1996.  Heuchera micrantha var. macropetala (Saxifragaceae), a new variety.  Rhodora 98: 365-368.




The National Park Service is funding the work on Harperella through 2004.