Deep Woods Farm

On Sunday, September 15th, our class took a trip to the Deep Woods Farm in the Hocking Hills region of southeastern Ohio. The property is privately owned and the proprietors value the preservation of the incredible biodiversity that exists on their property. We saw countless examples of various trees, ferns, shrubs, and mosses. On this trip I was tasked with identifying two different plants that either smell and/or taste good. Of course the term “good” is relative to the individual person, but I chose to present two different types of woody plants, sourwood and spicebush, which are pictured below.

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)

This deciduous tree is named for the sour taste of its leaves. Pictured is a sapling of this species. This tree is considered native to the Appalachian region in general and can be found on the tops of ridges. It is said to be rather “short-lived,” as an individual plant usually will not live longer than 80 years.

The simple, alternate leaves of this tree are pictured above, but it also produces fruits and beautiful white flowers. The flowers are small, bell-shaped, and apparently fragrant. These flowers can only be viewed in June and July. The fruits on the other hand are “dry capsules that occur in drooping clusters.”

Information sourced from: https://bernheim.org/learn/trees-plants/bernheim-select-urban-trees/sourwood/

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)

The leaves of spicebush are simple and alternate, and really appear to be very similar to that of sourwood. However, spicebush is an understory shrub, not a woody tree species. These shrubs can be found throughout all of Ohio and prefer moist soils. This shrub gets its name from the sort of spicy smell of its leaves when they are crushed. I would describe the smell as being very similar to that of lemon scented Pledge, the household cleaning product.

Also important to note, spicebush produces flowers that can be found fully open during the winter months, which is very unique. Also, this species is dioecious, meaning it has male and female flowers on separate plants. This bush produces a small red fruit that is also edible, although it has a relatively large pit within.

Information sourced from: http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/spicebush

Another very important part of this field trip was the observation of an environment that is very different from that of the Columbus area. Obviously, it is different in its biodiversity and topography, but it is the underlying soils that are very important to understand. Upon reading the “Geobotany” article that was assigned to our class, the major differences in the soils of the eastern and western Ohio regions became very apparent. While western Ohio is largely composed of limestone and in turn a more basic soil pH, the hills of eastern Ohio have sandstone as the primary underlying rock, which gives the soil a more acidic pH. This, along with many other variables such as the climate, elevation, and topography largely determine the species that persist in the area. It is important to note that the primary reason for this difference in soil composition is due to glaciation of the western half of Ohio and erosion via the Teays River, both of which occurred thousands of years ago.

By comparison, the limestone soils of western Ohio are generally poorly drained, not well aerated, and often nutrient rich. The sandstone hills of eastern Ohio are generally very well drained, adequately aerated, and often have low nutrient availability, especially on the tops of hills and ridges.

On our field trip we observed many examples of plants and other woody species that prefer the acidic, well-drained, sandstone soils of eastern Ohio. Some of these include sourwood (pictured above), chestnut oak (pictured below), eastern hemlock (pictured below), and greenbrier.

Eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
Chestnut oak (Quercus montana)

Appalachian gametophyte (Vittaria appalachiana)

This is the Appalachian gametophyte pictured above. As we learned on the field trip, this is not only an incredibly rare fern that exists in a very specific type of environment, but it also only exists in the gametophytic stage. This picture was taken early on in the trip, beneath the first sandstone outcropping that we came upon. The Appalachian gametophyte was growing at the back of the more cave-like portion of the outcropping on the underside of the sandstone above our heads. This portion of the cave is a bit darker, very cool, and very moist.

Marsh, Prairie, and Fen

MARSH – Although this is not a stereotypical marsh as you might think, in terms of tall cattails with open stretches of water, and a sky full of waterfowl, it is certainly a marsh habitat at the site we visited along Darby Creek Drive. Maybe more accurately a wetland, due to the constantly saturated soil conditions. Some of the key species associated with this habitat include sedges, cattails, graminoid grasses, and 3 different tree species which I was specifically asked to report on. The 3 species of lowland tree species that I chose to detail are the American sycamore, eastern cottonwood, and willow.

Cattails (Typha spp.) at the marsh on Darby Creek Drive.
Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) seedling at the marsh on Darby Creek Drive. Although cottonwood trees tend to thrive in floodplains and river bottoms, they have also been know to survive and grow very large in some of the driest soils, as well.
Source: http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/cottonwood
Willow (Salix spp.) seedlings at the marsh on Darby Creek Drive. Also thriving in moist environments, willows are said to produce a very weak, light wood. This wood was once used to create artificial limbs.
Source: http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/blackwillow
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) seedling at the marsh on Darby Creek Drive. Although tiny in this example, sycamore trees are regarded as the most massive tree native to Ohio, easily reaching heights of 80 feet or more.
Source: http://forestry.ohiodnr.gov/sycamore

PRAIRIE – The site we visited at Battelle Darby Metro Park is an example of a tall grass prairie. This ecosystem is defined by the tall vegetation that persists, which includes plants such as prairie dock, big blue stem, switchgrass, and even some tree species as well. Specifically, we saw swamp white oak at this location. It would also be common to see bur oaks in these habitats, but we did not see any at this particular spot.

Big blue stem (Andropogon gerardi), located in the prairie habitat at Battelle Darby Metro Park.

CEDAR BOG – … which isn’t a bog. Termed a bog due to the dense vegetated wetland habitat that is contained within, we learned that this location is actually named improperly. In fact, it isn’t a bog at all, it is actually a fen. The primary difference being that Cedar Bog has a constant flow of water that moves upward through the soils. On the other hand, a true bog is an area of saturated soils in which the drainage through the soil is “clogged,” so that water cannot escape. In fact, the water loss that occurs in a true bog is due to evaporation. Cedar Bog is a lowland area that exists between two moraines. Pretty much the entire area is saturated with plants persisting in all areas. Many areas have water that is visible on the surface, with presumably some very deep muck underneath. All of the water in the area is fed by a large underground aquifer that exists above the limestone bedrock. This water seeps up through the soils creating the saturated wetlands and the clear water creeks that were witnessed on our trip. Plants characteristic to this habitat include thistle, black ash, poison sumac, ninebark, and northern white cedar. It is also important to note that we also encountered many redbud and hackberry trees, which are calciphiles that are characteristic to the glaciated region of western Ohio.

A young hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), located within the Cedar Bog Nature Preserve.