Deep Woods, the Appalachian Gametophyte, and Ohio Geobotany

After reading Jane Forsyth’s Linking Geology and Botany: a New Approach and gaining a better understanding of geobotany, I am able to express knowledge about Ohio’s different geography, topography, and botany. To test this knowledge and also just go on a fun field trip, I went to Hocking Hills to admire the foliage of eastern Ohio. Eastern Ohio was previously covered by glaciers, unlike western Ohio, and therefore has a very different geography and substrate, thus having some unique plants.

Substrate-associated Plants

The first plant is is Eastern Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis. Eastern hemlock is eastern Ohio’s golden child, living up to 1,000 years in moist shady locations, like Hocking Hills. Eastern Ohio is the only part of Ohio where hemlock is found due to its preference for well-drained, cool, and acidic soils. Interestingly, the bark is for medicine. People use it for conditions such as digestive disorders, scurvy, and mouth and throat diseases. Other uses for hemlock wood include boats, aircraft flooring, and furniture.

Eastern Hemlocks are my favorite conifers! Their little cones are very cute.

I saw the next plant for the first time while in Hocking Hills, snakeskin liverwort or Conocephalum salebrosum.  The first thing I noticed was how accurate the common name for this plant is, the skin does look quite snakelike. Before this class, I was unfamiliar with liverworts so it was interesting learning about them and then being able to actually see them. Snakelike liverwort favors moist and wet conditions with lime-rich soil. They can reproduce sexually and asexually and can produce a strong odor when crushed. In addition, it has been found that snakeskin liverwort extract has antibiotic action against some strains of bacteria.

Ssssscaley like a ssssnake.

The third plant I saw a Hazel alder or Alnus serrulata. Hazel alder are fast growing shrubs that like moist, shady areas (I am seeing a trend here), in the spring, they bloom with small red flowers. Alder wood is highly conveted for furniture, cabinetry and door. It’s wood is also known for being pliable, being used in decortative woodwork. Hazel alders are also high in protein and were used as a survival food by Native Americans.












The last plant I want to mention is Chestnut oak or Quercus prinus, named after its resemblance with the leaves of the American chestnut. Chestnut oak can live up to 200 years old in moist, rocky outcrops throughout the Appalachain Mountains. Their wood is used for similar uses as the Hazel adler, furniture and woodworks. Their nuts are edible for humans and sought out by livestock. In recent years, the Chesnut oak has been targeted by the two-lined chestnut borer, a beetle that permanently damaged the inside of the tree.


Biotic Threats to Forest Health

While in Hocking Hills, I saw two trees that have fallen victim to biotic threats, butternuts and eastern hemlocks. Butternut is being dramatically affected by a fungus called butternut canker disease, or Sirococcus clavigignenti- juglandacearum (I know which name I prefer). This fungus infects the buds, leaf scars, and openings in the bark and kills a majority of the small branches. Unless the fungus is removed early in the infection, the tree will likely die. Butternut canker has the appearance of black fluid that flows from the tree’s cracks or cankers. Currently, there are not any butternut populations that have proven resistant to canker disease. One suggested solution includes the retaining of trees with more than 70% live crown and less than 20% of the combined circumference of the stem and root flares affected by the cankers. In addition to this, removing dead trees while trying to salvage quality wood, or maintaining a few snags to preserve their wildlife value.



Eastern hemlock populations have also been decreasing due to a non-native insect called the hemlock woolly adeligid. These insects feed on plant sap and interfere with the tree’s use of nutrients and can cause needles dropping, brach dieback, and even tree mortality. Without needles, hemlocks will starve and die within 3-5 years. Hemlock woolly adeligid cover themselves in a waxy coating that provides insulation and protection from the environment. Their eggs are easily recognizable by their resemblance to cotton balls on the needles. Current management plans include spraying pesticides on the adelgids repeatedly, or pouring a combination of water and imidacloprid onto the naked base of the tree. The latter method has proven to be the most successful, with trees recovering their color and producing new growth. Another method used is the usage of predatory beetles as biocontrol. This method is used warily, as introducing a new organism to the environment comes with sometimes extreme consequences. Although it is too early to tell if this method is effective, present reports are showing positive results.



Appalachian Gametophyte

Within the fern species is a long-lived gametophyte called Vittaria appalachiana, or the Appalachian gametophyte. This plant lives exclusively in the Appalachian Mountains and the Plateaus of the eastern United States and favors moist rock outcrops. The most unique feature of this gametophyte is that the species reproduce without mature sporophytes. Instead, it reproduces asexually using gemmae, or vegetative propagules consisting of only a few cells. Once matured, these cells will be released and then dispersed into the environment, growing as an independent but genetically identical plant. Gemmae are larger than typical spores and therefore are not able to travel long distances via wind. Therefore, gemmae use other modes of dispersion like water, wind or animals. For example, slugs have been known to disperse bryophytes gemmae, a study conducted by Kimmerer and Young. It would not be unlikely that Appalachian gametophytes are dispersed in a similar way. In addition, the Appalachian gametophyte tends not to colonize recently disturbed areas and instead flourish in similar substrates that are close by. This supports the idea that the Appalachian gametophyte does face limited dispersal and that a fully functioning sporophyte is responsible for this species-specific distribution. This brings up the question, could the Appalachian gametophyte be sustained by long-distance dispersal from a tropical sporophyte source? Most likely not, as past allozyme studies by Farrar concludes. Other studies also support the idea that dispersal from the topics only happened once.

My  Specific Assignment

I was asked to find two examples of flowers that are not asters. For background, asters are flowers that belong to the family Asteraceae. Asters are in the daisy family and are typically identifiable by their bright petals and their yellow center, the flowers are small but numerous. The first flower I saw was a Pinesap flower, a parasitic plant that targets fungi as it lacks chlorophyll. This means it is an indirect parasite of trees, taking the nutrients that the fungi obtain from the trees it associates with. Pinesap’s relationship with the fungi Tricholoma is very specific.

Getting the best possible lighting, only the best for Pinesap!

A closer look

The second flower that I saw is Oriental lady’s thumb or Persicaria longiseta, in invasive smartweed that favors wet disturbed areas. The name comes from the dark green splotch on the leaf, which is supposed to resemble a lady’s thumb. In addition, it is edible and the young shoots and leaves are used as a garnish in salads. They are also used as a remedy for stomach pains and poison ivy. The plant can be rubbed on horses as a form of insect repellent. Lady’s thumb is a stapel in many birds diet, such as ducks, geese, mourning doves, pheasants, and rails. 

Miscellaneous Plants!

One of the most interesting plants I saw while in Hocking Hills was cancer root. Cancer root is a fully parasitic plant where is grows attached to some oak roots. The plant does not have any chlorophyll, giving it a cream/brown color when emerging and a darker brown once established. Cancer root can be found in dense clumps of stems and growing in shady areas.

Another interesting plant I saw Black Birch or Betula lenta. This is one of the more memorable plants for me because of its smell. This tree smelled like wintergreen and was used to make wintergreen oils. Its wood is used to make fuel and furniture.

One of the many ferns I saw on the trip was the Cinnamon fern or Osmunda cinnamomea. The fronds of cinnamon fern occur in groups. Fertile ferns appear slivery fiddleheads, then become stiff. The fern can reach up to 6 feet in height.
The last plant I want to mention is known by Fortune’s spindle, winter creeper and Euonymus fortunei. It is an invasive vine that grows rapidly across the ground, displacing other native plants. Birds are their main method is dispersal. Also, they are poisonous to dogs.

Thanks for reading!