During the trip to Deep woods farm that isn’t a farm we saw some plants that are primarily associated with acidic sandstone soil of eastern Ohio. One such plant is eastern Hemlock which is a conifer that was used in the past mostly for it’s tannins in tanning of leather products. While today the tree is mostly for wood pulp and paper like a good majority of trees.
Another species we encountered that is common in eastern Ohio is Sourwood. The name of course comes from the way the leaves taste as they have a distinct flavor similar to sour lime skittles. The amazing part is how the flavor lasted for a few minutes and didn’t disappear after a few seconds.
The next plant species we saw was American chestnut which can see the dead tree that has been affected with chestnut blight and all that remains is a small stump that will produce a small amount of leaves but never return to its previous size. These trees used to be number in the billions in America and were quite common for for timber use.
The river birch is another tree that we saw on the trip, this tree is common along riverbanks giving it it’s name. It is a lighter wood that is used in small wood projects like baskets and the inner wood is edible if need be.
Biotic Threats to Forest Health
As mentioned earlier a big danger to American chestnuts is chestnut blight which is a parasitic fungus called Cryphonectria parasitica that attacks the vascular tissue of the tree. A century ago its estimate that chestnuts were around 4 billion and after the introduction of chestnut blight has decimated the population leaving the roots alive to become nothing more than a shrub that persists in disturbed areas. Chestnuts served a major role as a favorite timber tree and the chestnuts also a favorite for livestock to fatten up on. The disease was first introduced in 1904 by the cultivation of Japanese chestnut trees, which then went on to become the largest ecological forest issue. There have been some efforts to cross breed American chestnuts with other chestnut species in an attempt to breed a hybrid that is resistant to the disease. So far in 1989 TACF started crossbreeding and has made 1000’s of resistant trees but not enough to repopulate the forests by any stretch.
Another tree affected by disease is butternut tree where a fungal disease called butternut canker where the tree becomes infected and dies slowly. The first reported case is from 1967 and originates from outside the U.S and believed to be from Asia. It starts by forming small long black patches on the tree and will eventually kill it. There is no cure for this disease and the best way to manage it is to remove the affected area and clean it to prevent spread. If all the disease is removed there is a chance but if it is already to far spread the tree is lost.
Vittaria appalachiana, known by the common name Appalachian gametophyte is a unique fern species that reproduces exclusively by its gametophyte through asexual reproduction without need for a sporophyte. Fern gemmae by which these ferns reproduce are quite large and are unable to use wind dispersal for long distances. Instead they rely on short distance wind dispersal, water dispersal, or by small animals such as slugs (Kimmerer and young).
The limited dispersal ability of the Appalachian gametophyte is supported by the fact their dispersal doesn’t extend past the last glacial maximum. Although regions north of this can support the Appalachian gametophyte it is uncommon to find. This suggests that a fully functional sporophyte led to its current distribution. The fact that the range includes New York supports the theory that the sporophyte was lost before or during the last ice age.
Based on current distributions it is incredibly unlikely that the gametophyte is sustained by some tropical sporophyte by long distance dispersal as Appalachian gametophyte reproduces asexually and would not develop the same species. The more likely scenario is that the dispersal is from a sporophyte that existed before or during the ice age that is now lost.
For my scavenger hunt I was assigned liverworts which ended up being plenty of snakeskin liverworts. The first time we saw this was along the creek heading towards the waterfall where there were a couple of patches. The area that truly had the most though was on the cliffside next to the waterfall that required a steep 80 foot hike to see properly.
Snakeskin Liverwort is a nonvascular plant that tends to prefer cool shaded areas and is so called as the plant looks like snakeskin due to the hexagonal shapes of its cells. A cool detail is that when crushed it smells quite strong and pleasant. This species produces sexually and asexually by gemmae which lump off to form new plants.
The picture above is the steep hike it took to get all the way up which had a crazy amount of snakeskin liverwort with at least 300sq feet of it along with some ferns in the shade of the cliff face. Worth the climb to get this great view and see the types of plants on the cliff.