~DEEP WOODS, THE APPALACHIAN GAMETOPHYTE, AND OHIO GEOBOTANY~

For my individual assignment I was asked to locate two parasitic plants throughout or journey through Deep Woods. With the help of Ashley’s keen eye and knowledge of these plants, I was able to find two very interesting species.

First, Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana), a member of the Broomrape parasitic plant family Orobanchaceae. This an herbaceous parasitic plant that can range anywhere from 4-18 inches in height. The young stems and flowers are often cream, white, and purple but will turn to a darker color with age. One special feature of this plant is that it contains no chlorophyll (hence their lack of green coloration and often being mistaken for a fungus). Rather it obtains its nutrients solely from the American Beech tree (Fagus grandifolia). They do so by inserting a root like structure called the haustorium into the root of the beech tree allowing it to absorb adequate nutrients to survive. Despite being a parasite, they do not damage the trees. As they are considered an annual plant, they die each year at the end of the growing season therefore having no long term and recurrent detrimental effects on the tree.

Beechdrop (Epifagus virginiana)

Loads of Beechdrops on the side of a rocky slope

Next we came across a parasitic plant known as Ghost Plant or Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora), a member of the Monotropaceae family. This species ranges from 4-8 inches tall with scale like leaves and a single flower. Similar to the Beechdrops they lack chlorophyll and therefore must obtain their nutrients from another plant. This parasitic plant utilizes a middleman to gain nutrients from tree roots. The mycorrhizae, that which the Indian Pipe steals sugar from, exhibits a symbiotic relationship with tree roots by aiding its absorption of water and essential minerals.

Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora)

Ohio’s geology is often divided into two basic parts. Western Ohio is considered to have a relatively flat landscape with predominantly limestone and magnesium (dolomite) rich rocks and soils. Conversely, Eastern Ohio (where Deep Woods was located) is known for its rolling hills and deep valleys with sandstone rocks and acidic soils. The reason for these differences lies simply in the process of erosion and the organization of sedimentary rock strata. The rock strata was gently tilted creating an arch that eventually turned into what is now known as the Appalachian Mountains. Erosion was strongest in Western Ohio and therefore wiping away the limestone and leaving that part of the state with nearly flat plains. Conversley, Eastern Ohio’s strong sandstone was not fully wiped away but rather deep ridges were cut creating the characteristic hills of this areas. When the glaciers entered Ohio roughly 20,000 years ago, these deep cut sandstone ridges slowed the glaciers down. However, off to the west the ice was able to continue down into Kentuky leaving behind gravel and sand deposits as it went.

Some may not think these major geological patterns and events play a large role on botany. However, these geographic events are responsible for the variety of differences in plant life that we see throughout Ohio. Some plants are less tolerant to poorly drained, sandy, acidic soils than others and vice versa. Some common species that may seen in Eastern Ohio include but are not limited to: Chesnut Oak (Quercus montana), Sourwood (Oxydendrum arbeum), Scrub Pine (Pinus virginiana), Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and Greenbrier (Smilax glauca). 

I have depicted some other interesting species characteristic of Eastern Ohio below:

Eastern Ohio is known to have acidic, low nutrient, and sandy soils. Throughout our journey through Deep Woods, we aimed to locate several species specific to this unique environment.

One species that we came across early in the field trip was Trailing Bush Clover (Lespedeza procumbens). This plant prefers sandy soils such as those seen at Deep Woods due to the sandstone in this area. As you can tell by its name, the Trailing Bush Clover has trailing, long, and slightly hairy stems with clusters of pale violet and pink flowers.

Trailing Bush Clover (Lespedeza procumbens)

Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule) is a large wildflower that belongs to the Orchid family that prefers rocky/mossy slopes and acidic soils like those at Deep Woods . The species name acaule means “stem less”. Which is quite fitting as this species has a leafless flowering stem. This flower can grow to be anywhere from 6-15 inches tall and often flowers in May through July. One interesting thing to note is Pink Lady’s Slipper takes years to mature from a seed to a flower adult plant. However, the mature plants can live to be 20 years old or more!

Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is a evergreen tree that is part of the Pinaceae family. They prefer well shaded areas with acidic/moist soils and therefore were quite prevalent throughout our trip through Deep Woods. These trees are extremly common throughout eastern Ohio. However, they have been recently suffered greatly from the woolly adelgid and root rot.

Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

Snakeskin Liverwort (Conocephalum salebrosum) is the largest of the thalloid liverworts. It can be found throughout the U.S. and Canada on moist rock faces like the sandstone ledges that we saw throughout Deep Woods. The entire surface is covered with small hexagons that make it appear snake-like coining it it’s name “snakeskin”.

Snakeskin Liverwort (Conocephalum conicum)

The Appalachian Gametophyte (Vittaria appalachiana) is a species of shoestring fern that is widespread throughout the Appalachian regions of the United States. This species is exceptionally unique as it has the ability to reproduce asexually as the presence of mature sporophytes are still unknown. However, it is believed that they once existed when temperatures were favorable due to the wide range of this species. The genetic history of this species is quite complicated. Decades ago it was believed to be a hybridization between two other Vittaria species. However, genetic data presented in Pinson & Schuettpelz (2016) suggests that it is not a hybrid but rather that is emerged from the Vittaria graminifolia lineage.