Substrate-associated Plants

American Hornbeam

A fine-textured tree that is related to the birches, the American hornbeam is the only North American native of the genus Carpinus and a wonderful addition to a natural landscape. It tolerates flooding quite well as well as attracting songbirds to their forked branches and tasty seeds. With simple and alternate leaves, this 20 to 40-foot tree fits well in any yard, or you’ll find a use for the wood for golf clubs and mallets.


Truly a tree for all seasons, sourwood is one of the most beautiful trees and is ideal as a small specimen. It has lovely flowers that open in mid-summer, excellent fall color, and hanging racemes of fruit capsules in the winter. Its simple leaves alternate on its branches with a dark green hue and glossy finish on this 25 to 30-foot species whose wood was once used to make wagon sled runners.

Eastern Hemlock

The Eastern Hemlock is a graceful tree that remains regal throughout the year, softer in form and texture than most other conifers. Soft, feathery foliage appears to be arranged on one plane on the twigs while the twigs themselves fan over each other. The species is willowy and flexible, unlike most other conifers. This tree’s saplings require shade from other species to thrive in their younger years, though interestingly it eventually shades out those same species and becomes dominant as it grows. Its bark was used by Native Americans to produce tannins to tan leather hides.


Perfoliate Bellwort Flowers at the Edge of the Woods

Also called wild oats, bellwort is a native perennial common in eastern North America. These low-growing plants have dangling yellow flowers and oval leaves. Its family of plants is named after the flower’s resemblance to the uvula as well as the curative powers the herb possesses for throat ailments. They require moist, rich soil to grow but it cannot stay boggy, requiring appropriate drainage in the area so as not to be swamped. Those drooping yellow flowers provide excellent nectar for bees and other pollinators in early April and May!

Biotic Threats to Forest Health

Butternut Canker

Butternut canker is a fungal disease of Juglans cinerea, the butternut tree.  The disease is thought to have originated outside of the U.S.  The first documented case of butternut canker in Wisconsin occurred in 1967.  Butternut canker affects butternuts throughout their natural range, and has killed up to 80% of the butternut trees in some states. These cankers are sunken and black, with white margins and folds of bark around the edge.  Cankers girdle branches and trunks, cutting off nutrients and water, leading to progressive dieback above the canker. There is no known cure for this disease, though trees with high vitalty are sometimes able to grow through the cankers and manage to still reproduce. The efforts to solve the problem have mainly landed towards crossbreeding butternuts with other speices in the hopes to confer natural immunity to them.

Chestnut Blight

Chestnut blight is caused by an introduced fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, which enters wounds, grows in and under the bark, and eventually kills the cambium all the way around the twig, branch, or trunk. Cankers were first reported in the United States in 1904 on American chestnut trees in New York City. None of the control attempts (chemical treatments, clearing and burning chestnut trees around infection sites) were successful. By 1926 the fungus was reported throughout the native range of American chestnut, and a major forest tree had been reduced to a multiple-stemmed shrub. Funnily enough, one of the best ways to curb this disease’s advance came in the form of another parasite. This specimen was introduced and crossbred with the canker to create a strand that was far less adept at killing the chestnut trees, though still not a perfect solution this has slowed the problem.


The Appalachian Gameotophyte

Among fern species with long-lived gametophytes, perhaps none is as peculiar as Vittaria Appalachian, which is much more commonly known as the Appalachian gametophyte. This temperate member of a tropical lineage inhabits the Appalachian Mountains and Plateau of the eastern United States, where it grows on porous rock outcrops, usually adjacent to water. Most distinctive, however, is the fact that this species exists exclusively as a vegetatively reproducing gametophyte.

Fern gemmae are quite large in comparison to spores, typically 0.2–1.0 mm in length, and are generally considered too large for long-distance wind dispersal. Instead, gemmae are likely dispersed short distances by wind, water, or possibly animals. Recent studies in bryophyte’s gemmae dispersal have been shown to be facilitated over short distances by slugs [Kimmerer and Young, 1995]. However,  the notion of limited dispersal capability in V. appalachiana is also supported by the absence of this species north of the extent of the last glacial maximum, beyond which a transplant study has shown they are able to survive showing that their limited prevalence is likely only such due to their dispersal methods and this has been affecting their spread since the last ice age.
It is entirely possible that the current populations of this gametophyte were originally propagated by a sporophyte before the last ice age, however, since then it is unlikely that a far-off tropical species have been sustaining it. If that were the case it would likely be more widespread in the areas it is present in, and the diversity of the gametophytes genes would likely not be as extremely fixed as current research suggests it is


Fern Leaf Complexity

Chirstmas Fern

Christmas fern got its name because it stays green right through the holiday season. It is a robust, leathery fern that has glossy, green fronds year-round. The fronds grow in clusters from a crownless rootstock and range from 1-2 ft. in length, which support roughly 40 leaflets and make this plant only once pinnately compound. Funnily enough, these ferns actually prefer a more neutral pH so it is interesting to have found them in the more acidic soil of Hocking Hills.

Spinulose Wood Fern

Spinulose wood fern, like several other wood ferns, is of hybrid origin, originally sterile and then becoming fertile after chromosome doubling. What makes this species unusual is that one of its parents can only be inferred. These leaves are twice pinnately compound along with the plant’s fronds and have a deep green coloration along with their very smooth texture.