Sunday, July 6, 2014

Some Plants from Calamus Swamp

Last Thursday I visited Calamus Swamp in Pickaway County. I wrote a post giving a general overview of the park and the trails which you can read here, but I also promised to go over some of the plants I came across while there.

Calamus Swamp
As I mentioned in my previous post, the main attraction at Calamus Swamp is a 19 acre kettle lake, now mainly filled with aquatic plants as shown above. Many unique plant species can be found in this also unique ecosystem. I'm going to focus on more of the showy species you can come across here in late June and early July.

Common Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
When it comes to the actual kettle lake, one of the most stand-out species in the water is the Common Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis. Common Buttonbush is a shrub that is about 4-10 feet tall that can be found in habitats such as wetlands (like Calamus Swamp), floodplains, mangrove swamps, moist understories, and on the borders of streams and lakes.

Common Buttonbush
Common Buttonbush becomes covered in these spherical flower clusters from June to August before giving way to small spherical fruits that stay on the plant from September to October. Interestingly, Common Buttonbush is actually a member of the family Rubiaceae, more commonly known as the coffee family.

Common Buttonbush
This is one of the dominate species at Calamus Swamp. There's buttonbush basically everywhere you look. The photo above shows a common scene while on the boardwalk. A wall of Common Buttonbush fills in the edges of the lake, offering many birds a place to nest and many waterbirds protection. Wood Ducks are especially fond of nesting in the dense growth. Bees are also a very common visitor to the flowers, as well as butterflies.

Sparganium eurycarpum
Another common aquatic plant in the kettle lake is Bur Reed, specifically the species Sparganium eurycarpum. Bur Reed is a flowering marsh plant that can either be floating in the water or emergent, meaning they grow in the water but also go into the air. Recent phylogenetic analysis has found that the bur reed genus is actually closest related to the cattail genus, which isn't surprising to learn when you see the 3-6 feet tall "grasses" coming out of the water.

Bur Reed
The large, pointy spheres are actually the fruit of Bur Reed. They also help identify the species. For example, the fruit of S. eurycarpum (shown above) are glossy and have an abruptly pointed beak, versus the similar S. americanum which is dull and has points that taper gently like an ice-cream cone.

Utricularia gibba
Next is another aquatic plant, and a unique one at that. This is the flower of the Bladderwort, a carnivorous aquatic plant. Specifically, this is the species Utricularia gibba, more commonly known as the Humped or Floating Bladderwort. Calamus Swamp only has one recorded bladderwort species, U. gibba. U. gibba has been recorded in 19 other Ohio counties, making it one of the more common bladderwort species, but still not overly abundant. Bladderworts grow in nitrogen and phosphorous poor water and have evolved to make up for this deficiency by consuming prey. Bladderworts have small bladders which actively transport water out of them, creating a vacuum inside of the bladder. Once the vacuum is great enough, all it takes is one tiny aquatic animal, like a Daphnia or mosquito larva, to trigger one of the hairs by the door. The animal, by hitting the trigger hair attached to the bladder door, creates a small hole which breaks the vacuum seal and water, along the with animal, rushes into the bladder. The door is shut and the trapped prey is dissolved normally within a few hours.

Bittersweet Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara
These small purple and yellow flowers belong to Bittersweet Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, an invasive vine. Most of the individuals I came across that day were wound around the Common Buttonbush shrubs. This species, as I mentioned previously, is an invasive. It was brought from Eurasia as an ornamental and broke free of human control and now can be found in most of the lower 48 states. Bittersweet Nightshade runs a bad rap for being poisonous to humans and livestock. The flowers give way to small red berries, which to a cow or say curious child look tasty. Eating only a few can result in vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, irregular heartbeats, and other symptoms. Eating a good amount of the berries can result in paralysis, hallucinations, and even death, although deaths have only been rarely recorded. 

Black-Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta
Now let's move on to some of the species that were growing in the prairie section. These familiar flowers are Black-Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta. There is also a large Prairie Dock leaf in the upper right corner. Black-Eyed Susans are a native species belonging to the daisy/sunflower family Asteraceae. They grow in a variety of habitats such as fields, open forests, roadsides, gardens, and so on. There are a few other species that can be found in Ohio that look like Black-Eyed Susan, all of which have a handful of characteristics which can help differentiate them if you know where to look. When it comes to Black-Eyed Susans, the stems and leaves are covered in hairs that help keep other insects away that might bother flying pollinators. This characteristics can help you know you're looking at R. hirta versus say Brown-Eyed Susan, R. triloba.

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa
If you've been driving along the highway or on country roads recently, you might have seen a small, bright orange flower like the one above. This is Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa. Butterfly Weed is actually one of the many species of milkweed we have here in Ohio.

Closeup of the flowers of Butterfly Weed.
Butterfly Weed is named as such because the color and nectar attracts butterflies, as well as a lot of other insects. Butterfly Weed is a species that requires full sun exposure and can also tolerate dry soil, making roadsides a great place for it to go. In fact, this individual was in the prairie section along the road.

Monarda fistulosa
Blooming in force in the prairie was Wild Bergamot (also known at Bee Balm), Monarda fistulosa. This species is variable, so the photo above is not a good representative of what it will always look like. A widespread species, Wild Bergamot can be found growing in prairies, thickets, clearings, and on calcareous soil. Blooming from July to September, this showy flower added a beautiful contrasting bluish-purple to the greens of the grasses and the yellows of the Black-Eyed Susans in the prairie area of Calamus Swamp.

One of the more unusual plants growing was Wild White Indigo, Baptisia alba. The wind was blowing probably around fifteen miles an hour that day, making it incredibly hard to photograph flowers, so sadly I wasn't able to get a full-plant view of this tall and strange looking wildflower. A southeastern species, this plant has a spotty range in Ohio. It has been recorded in about 23 counties here, and most of those counties are grouped into a circle of 4-5 counties and scattered around the state. There were a handful of individuals located at Calamus Swamp, and they offered a unique contrast to the other species there.

And finally we have a wildflower everyone is probably familiar with. This is Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. The butterfly visiting is a Pearl Crescent. Purple Coneflower is known more as an ornamental plant to many people, but it is a native species that can be found in prairies, barrens, and dry, open woods throughout the eastern United States. Note the characteristic drooping purple petals and spiny center.

This kind of turned into a long post. To those of you who read it, thank you! There will be more posts coming up, as always, so stay tuned!


  1. Great post, Kyle. Thanks for sharing Calamus Swamp with us!

  2. This is a very nice post. I think we need to make plans to visit Calamus Swamp the next time we visit our daughter in Columbus. Beth

    1. Thank you! It's definitely worth the visit if you're in the area!

  3. Thanks for these photos. It helped us understand some of the plants we saw when walking the trail yesterday.