Our recent trip to Deep Woods in Hocking Hills was full of magic, adventure, and of course, lots of plants!
The land we visited was located in the eastern part of the state, which is known for its sandstone hills and acidic substrate. Some plants that thrive here include the chestnut oak, sour wood, and eastern hemlock.
Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
Admittedly not the best photo, but the group was moving on and my phone does not do well in low-light.
Biotic Threats to Forest Health
During our time in Deep Woods, we encountered plant species that face many threats to their health and species survival. One such species that is affected is the American chestnut (Castanea dentata). This tree has been heavily affected by chestnut blight, which is a fungus that wiped out nearly the entire population of American chestnuts in North America. Another plant that is in potential danger is the eastern hemlock, which is being threatened by the hemlock wooly adelgid. This is an invasive, aphid-like insect that attack the trees by attaching to the ends of the needles and ingesting the flow of nutrients throughout the tree, thus disrupting the tree’s ability to feed itself. Finally, the butternut tree (Juglans cinerea) is being affected by a fungus called butternut canker. The fungus infiltrates the tree and kills it slowly by preventing the tree from absorbing nutrients and water. All three of these diseases are invasive, meaning they were brought to the eastern United States from other places. Ways to alleviate this would include management of wood and plant transportation from place to place, and methods of biological management such as natural predators to the invaders.
The Appalachian gametophyte (Vittaria appalachiana) is an exceptionally peculiar species of fern in that it only exists in its gametophyte stage and produces asexually. Most ferns are known for having two stages to their lifestyle, the sporophyte and the gametophyte. The gametophyte stage in the majority of these plants are short-lived, and the mature sporophyte is seen as the “dominant stage”. In fact, the Appalachian gametophyte is one of only three fern species that lack observations of a sporophyte stage.
Fern gemmae are generally much larger than spores, making it much more difficult for them to be dispersed by wind. In order to spread, these gemmae rely instead on shorter wind dispersals or water. Kimmerer and Young (1995) found that they can even rely on animals to disperse them, such as slugs. V. appalachiana is not found north of the extent of the most recent glacial maximum in the eastern United States, likely because of the low amount of dispersal methods used.
The current populations of the Appalachian gametophyte could not be sustained by long-distance dispersal from a tropical sporophyte source because they require asexual reproduction, and an outside sporophyte would not form the same species. The species is now considered to be reproductively isolated. The unusually large range of V. appalachiana could be because of the existence of a fully-functioning sporophyte ancestor in North America prior to the arrival of glaciers.
Miscellaneous Observations and Scavenger Hunt
On our trip, I was assigned the task of finding two species of mosses. The ones I chose to document were common haircap moss (Polytrichum commune) and a species of moss in the genus Tetraphis.
Some honorable mentions:
Snakeskin liverwort (Conocephalum conicum), which has a scratch-and-sniff ability!
Some lovely reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina)!
A few friendly critters we found along the way.
And of course, Bob doing Bob things.