The location I chose for our botany survey assignment was the Park of Roses or Whetstone Park, a public park surrounded by suburban homes and right next to a public library. Although the surrounding area sounds a little boring, the park is also bordered by the Olentangy river, giving some cool plant species a chance of growing there. Also, as the name implies, there is an abundance of roses that bloom in the spring.
When walking around and exploring the park, I made note of some plants that interested me.
First, we have the Honey Locust, or Gleditsia triacanthos, which is quite obvious to anyone that knows its defining trait, thorns. Honey Locust trees live in a wide range of soil types, so I wasn’t very surprised to see it in Whetstone Park. And although the name implies it may help make honey, the tree was given its name by Native Americans who ate the sweet seeds. The seeds can also be used as a coffee substitute and can even be fermented.
Another tree I noticed was a Swamp White Oak or Quercus bicolor. Even if the name implies that the Swamp White Oak would only grow in swamps, that is not the case. These types of trees tend to prefer acidic or well-drained, moist soils. This fits the description of the park as it is right next to the Olentangy River. One interesting thing to know about Swamp White Oaks is that they grow rapidly and live to be between 300 and 350 years old. Also, the nuts of this tree are slightly toxic and can cause stomach pain if ingested.
Also while I was looking around the park, I noticed a few of the trees actually had fruit on them! The first tree I noticed was a Hackberry tree or Celtis occidentalis. When identifying trees, I always found the hackberry to be easily identifiable, as the bark is extremely bumpy and looks a little like melted wax. The fruits were small red/brown and edible! In addition, these types of trees are a host for about six different kinds of butterflies.
The next fruit I saw had me a little excited, as I had one of these trees in my front yard when I was younger and loved playing with them, a crab-apple tree or Malus sylvestris. This tree had the most amount of fruit on it in the entire park, from what I saw. Crab-apple trees ripen in fall, turning yellow, orange or red. As you can see in the picture, most of the fruit was not ripe at all. The name “crab-apple” actually came from the appearance of the bark, gnarled and twisted, often described as “crabbed”, thus earring the fruit its name, crab-apple! Whetstone Park has a large variety of plants, not just trees! I also made note of a few shrubs I noticed. One shrub, in particular, was very hard to ignore, as it took up most of the trail and forest border, Amur honeysuckle or Lonicera maackii. Amur honeysuckle is infamous for being one of the most common and invasive bush honeysuckles. They bloom in the spring, making the sides of roads a sea of white. You may be familiar with the practice of licking the nectar from honeysuckle but did you know that their leaves are also edible? They are put in salads or can be consumed as a leafy vegetable.
Another shrub I noticed quite a bit was Common burdock or Arctium minus. The plant is native to Europe but has been introduced to Australia, North and South America, and can be found all over those countries. Common burdock actually has many medical uses and is spectated to be one of the cures for many types of skin diseases, burns and bruises. In addition, it can be taken internally as an infusion or externally as a wash. My picture shows a shrub of common burdock past its flowering season, leaving the remnants of its spiky purple flowers as a dried seed pod. These can be extremely annoying as they stick to your clothes if you aren’t careful.
Last but not least, I was assigned to find some Poison Ivy! Unfortunately, or fortunately, I was unable to find any at the Park of Roses. My guess is that because it is such a popular area for the public, poison ivy management is a bit stricter than it would normally be. However, I did get to see some poison ivy while on our field trip. Before I learned more about poison ivy, I had no idea it was a vine, and thought it was a shrub instead. Now, when identifying poison ivy, I avoid anything with the infamous three leaves and a red stem. I also keep an eye out for “hairy” vines that fit that description, like in my picture below (hi Dr. Klips!). The “poison” part of poison ivy is actually oil on the plant that causes an allergic reaction to only humans, called urushiol.
For my second survey, I went into the Park with the hopes of identifying more species. I’ve learned how to recognize some conifers, deciduous trees, and ferns since the first entry. Here is a list of the species I’ve been able to catalog:
- Ohio Buckeye
- Black Walnut
- Silver Maple
- Amur Honeysuckle
- Riverbank Grape
- Crab Apple
- Bur Oak
- Red Spruce
- Virginia Creeper
- Black Locust
- Winter Creeper
- Shagbark Hickory
- Eastern Cottonwood
- White snakeroot
Coefficients of Conservatism
- Sycamore: CC of 7
- Mulberry: CC of 7
- White snakeroot: CC of 7
- Honeysuckle: CC of 7
All of these species have a CC of 7, meaning they have a “narrow range of ecological tolerances that typify a stable or near climax community”. I was a little surprised to learn that Honeysuckle has a CC of 7, and not a lower number. Because it is invasive, I assumed that it would be more favorable to other environmental conditions. Same with Sycamores, I see them so often around Ohio that I thought that their “ecological tolerances” might be lower than other species I see less often.
- Virginia Creeper: CC of 2
- Riverbank Grape: CC of 3
- Eastern Cottonwood: CC of 3
- Silver Maple: CC of 3
All of these species meet the requirements to be categorized as having a low CC, meaning they have “a wide range of ecological tolerances. Often these are opportunistic invaders of natural areas or native taxa that are typically part of a ruderal community”. Two of these species are vine species that can be found in floodplains, forests, wooded swamps, marshes, fence rows, and even drier areas. Because they have such a high tolerance for other environmental conditions, they are assigned a low CC.
A few of the species I saw have been categorized as “invasive”. An invasive plant is a plant that is both non-native and able to establish itself on many sites, growing quickly and can ultimately displace and disrupt the native plant community and ecosystem. One of the most infamous invasive species is the Amur Honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii. Even before taking any botany classes, I knew that Honeysuckle was a formidable foe, it surrounds pathways and roads. They are so easily spread by animals, as Honeysuckle is one of the first plants to fruit in the spring, giving hungry animals a treat. Although animals like them, their berries are poisonous to humans. Honeysuckle is best removed by cutting the stem as close to the ground as possible and then immediately applying herbicide. Repeated herbicide sprayings may be necessary as honeysuckles are known for their resilience.
Another invasive plant that I saw on the site was the Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia. Black locusts have invasive traits that allow them to spread aggressively. They can cause problems with the nitrogen cycle of an ecosystem, as they have nitrogen-fixing bacteria associated with the roots that can increase the nitrogen content in the soil (Source). The additional nitrogen in the soil can throw off many plant communities. Herbicide is used to prevent black locust foliage from maturing.
The third invasive plant I noticed was a vine, Fortune’s spindle, Euonymus fortunei. This vine is native to east Asia and not native to Ohio. Once established, Fortune’s spindle spreads vertically and horizontally extremely quickly. This causes problems for native ground plants, displacing them and providing little food for wildlife. Not only does wildlife not like the berries of Fortune’s spindle, but humans also shouldn’t either. The berries are poisonous and can cause vomiting, weakness, chills, and even convulsions. One way you can prevent this plant from spreading this is not herbicide is to smother it with cardboard.
The last invasive plant I want to take a closer look at is Goldenrod. Goldenrods are a part of the Asteraceae family and are made up of clusters of small yellow flowers that bloom in the late summer or fall. Most Goldenrod species are incredibly invasive. Many landscapers use them in yards for a splash of color but their number will increase every year. They are also planted near gardens as they can draw bad bugs away from any fruits or vegetables. The best way to get rid of goldenrod is to cut the stalks and then spray with herbicide.
Substrate Associated Species
In Jane Forsyth’s article about Geobotany, I learned about the correlations between soil substrate and plant distribution. Most of the time, these sections are divided into eastern and western Ohio, as the glacial divide separates them. Columbus is dropped right in the middle of Ohio and although we are considered “east” using the glacial lines, you still may find some western plants here. Typically, plants are either limited to or at least more prevalent in one of the four following places:
- limestone, or high-lime substrates
- the high-lime, clay-rich thick till plains
- the sandstone hills of eastern Ohio
- one side or the other of the glacial boundary
The first tree that I wanted to mention is Hackberry. This tree was one of the most prevalent on the property, I felt like every tree I identified as hackberry. Hackberry has a distribution favoring limestone or limy substrate and is more common along floodplains in most of Ohio. As the park is next to the Olentangy River, this makes sense. Something interesting about hackberries is their relationship with hackberry psyllids, adults will fly to hackberry trees in the spring and then lay eggs in the leaf buds. The eggs will hatch and live off the tree for the rest of the summer. Hackberry trees will grow galls in response.
The second tree is bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa. I only found one or two bur oak on the property but they made an impression. Bur oak is found in high-lime, clay-rich substrates developed in the thick till of the western Ohio plains. This tree is typically found exclusively in southwest Ohio, leading me to believe the few bur oaks I did find in the park were intentionally planted there, both bur oaks had extensive and wide branches. Its name comes from the acorn cups, which look like prickly burs. Bur oaks are excellent trees to have as they provide dense shade, and squirrel habitat, and are resistant to air pollution and heat stress.
The third tree I want to mention is Silver Maple, Acer saccharinum. Similarly to the bur oak, the silver maple favors high-lime, clay-rich substrates. This is personally one of my favorite trees in the fall because of the vibrant red it turns. It is also one of the earliest trees to change colors, making its leaves a pretty red/green ombre as early as September. Silver maple has a sweet sap and its twigs have an unpleasant odor when broken. One way to identify the silver maple from the sugar maple is the sharper lobes of the leaves. I have always thought that the silver maple looked “sharper”, leaves and bark, then the sugar maple.
The last tree I want to mention is Shagbark Hickory, Carya ovata. Shagbark hickory falls into the same category as the previous two trees, with a distribution in high-lime, clay-rich substrates developed in the thick till of western Ohio. They favor well drained, fertile soils. These trees are also very susceptible to canker, a wood rotting fungus that will kill the tree. In addition, the hickory bark bettle targets hickory trees and borrow into the inside of the tree, damaging it permanently.