Monday, June 23, 2014

Some Plants from Christmas Rocks SNP

Sunday morning I went to Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve for the first time. Christmas Rocks SNP is a preserve that recently opened to the public in the last couple of years (it used to be permit-only) that is located in the southern region of Fairfield County. Located near the end moraine that begins the Allegheny Plateau, this park contains 3 miles worth of forested trails.

Christmas Rocks State Nature Preserve
The big feature of Christmas Rocks is a rocky knob known as Jacob's Ladder, and the spectacular view over the Arney Run valley it gives hikers. The photo above shows the view from the overlook. The main trail follows an old gravel road which has two loops coming off of it. We only took the loop that climbs up Jacob's Ladder as we had other parks to hit that day. The trail was quite steep, but luckily it didn't take too long to ascend. Christmas Rocks SNP is an amazing location when it comes to plants. It's one of the few locations where the rare Bradley's Spleenwort, Asplenium bradleyi, can be found in Ohio. There's also the rare Green Adder's Mouth Orchid, Malaxis unifolia, and a mature flowering Chestnut tree in the park, among other species of note. While I couldn't get photos of any of those, I did come across some wildflowers and other plants I thought were interesting, which is what this post is about.

Ohio Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis
First up is Ohio Spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis. This is a species I've been wanting to see this year, and I finally got to come across a small group of flowering individuals. Ohio Spiderwort has been recorded in about half of the counties in Ohio, but there's really no pattern to the distribution here. The ones I came across were found in a wet meadow that was part of an electric-line right-of-way, but this species can also be found in certain prairies, thickets, woodland edges, roadsides, and other environments. Like other spiderworts, the flowers of this species open up in the morning and are gone typically by the afternoon.

Poke Milkweed, Asclepias exaltata
Next we have Poke Milkweed, Asclepias exaltata. Preserve Manager Jim Osborn, whom I met along the trail, actually directed me to the Poke Milkweed, which I had initially passed. The photo above doesn't do this tall plant justice. This species can reach heights up to six feet tall!

Poke Milkweed
Here's a closer inspection of the Poke Milkweed's cluster of flowers. This is an uncommon species in Ohio; while it has been recorded in about half of the counties here, it is not a species one comes across often. Poke Milkweed can be found in the shaded understory of forests and woods. When most people think of milkweeds, they probably imagine plants that live in more open, grassland-like areas, so coming across Poke Milkweed in the dense shade of a forest is a little surprising.

Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata
Near the top of Jacob's Ladder I came across a small patch of Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata. The name "wintergreen" refers to the evergreen leaves, which stand in stark contrast of the subdued browns of a winter woods. The top of Jacob's Ladder, like the tops of many Allegheny knobs and ridges, has dry, thin, and decently acidic soil dominated by oaks. It is in an environment like this that Spotted Wintergreen calls home. This species has been recorded in about half of the counties here. It is present in pretty much all of the eastern Allegheny Plateau counties, and absent in the glaciated farmland of western Ohio.

Indian Pipe
What's this? Rocks? A strange fungus perhaps? Nope. It is actually Indian Pipe, a strange species of wildflower, emerging from the forest floor. What does it look like when it is fully emerged?

Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora
Well, it looks like this. Ghostly. Pale. Fungus-like. I've previously covered Indian Pipe, Monotropa uniflora, on my blog, which you can read here. In short, this species is strange. Its white color is due to the absence of chlorophyll, a chemical compound that is necessary to photosynthesis (which is the process by which plants turn sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water into glucose for food and oxygen). So, how does Indian Pipe get nutrients to survive? Well, it becomes a parasite! The Indian Pipe parasatizes certain fungi which are mycorrhizal with trees (that is, the fungi form a mutualistic relationship with the trees). The fungi and the trees share nutrients and energy with each other, but Indian Pipe steals the nutrients and energy the fungi have and also that which the fungi receives from the trees. If you want to see this unique flower, I suggest heading out to either Christmas Rocks SNP or Clear Creek Metro Park (especially the Fern Trail and the upper part of the Hemlock Trail) relatively soon. Both locations have a lot of individuals along the trails.

Lobed Spleenwort, Asplenium pinnatifidum
Moving on from wildflowers, this is Lobed Spleenwort, Asplenium pinnatifidum. One of my friends remarked the name sounds like something out of Harry Potter. Christmas Rocks SNP is known for its population of Bradley's Spleenwort, but the population grows too high to reach and on a dangerous cliff face, so I couldn't see it. Instead, here's the next best thing, a Lobed Spleenwort. While this species is not nearly as rare as the other, it has still only been recorded in 24 of the 88 counties, mostly in the southeastern Allegheny Plateau region. This fern can be found on rocks and sandstone cliffs, as long as the rocks are acidic.

Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis
Finally, we have another fern. This is the Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis. Recorded in all but five counties in Ohio, you've probably seen this fern while hiking through a forest. While they still look fern-like, they look quite different than the "traditional fern," which might make them stand out to an observant hiker. The name comes from their sensitivity to frost; early Americans observed this species to wilt at the first touch of frost, so they decided it was more sensitive compared to the other fern species. You can find this species in the shaded understory of forests in moist soil.

Christmas Rocks SNP is truly a hidden gem in Central Ohio. If you're a hiker, botany-lover, or any sort of nature lover, it definitely warrants a visit. The park isn't the easiest to find, so if you want more information about parking and locating the park please visit the lovely Trek Ohio blog's post on Christmas Rocks. The bottom of the post has detailed instructions on where to park and where to walk to locate the trail head, as well as a lot of other helpful information on the trails.


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  2. I just found your blog. I love it. I raise Poke Milkweed but have never seen it in the wild. Very exciting! Your photography is wonderful!