The Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park is a 52-acre extensive research facility owned by The Ohio State University. The location coordinates are 40.019026, -83.019614. Located along the Olentangy River and north of OSU main campus, the wetlands provide ample opportunities for faculty and students to apply their skills to in-field, ecosystem management. The site contains two experimental wetland basins, an oxbow wetland, and bottomland hardwood forest. The Olentangy Trail runs through the property and there are unpaved walking paths throughout. There is also a river dam located near the lower portion of the park. The soil here ranges from well-drained to poorly-drained and the species reflect these qualities.
Now that we know a little bit about the site, let’s dig into the nitty gritty. The species I’ll be discussing were found on the paved path that runs adjacent to the WOSU property and connects to the lower portion of the Olentangy Trail (see above). They were also found in moderately well-drained soil conditions. We’re going to start with two tree species. One gymnosperm and one angiosperm!
Our first tree is a conifer called eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana). Their leaves are opposite and look almost like scales. And yes, what we’ve all been calling pine needles are actually leaves! Once again, plants are crazy. Redcedars are pretty distinguishable by their small whiteish-blue ‘berries’ like the one in my picture. Why did I use quotations? Well… these ‘berries’ are actually fertilized cones. These trees grow best in areas with little competition from hardwoods. They are also a popular food and protection species for birds and mammals.
The second tree from my walk is a black walnut (Juglans nigra). Their branching is alternate with pinnately compound, serrated leaves. Black walnut produces a toxin, called juglone, that negatively impacts plants competing within their space by stunting their growth. Their fruits are thick and yellow-green; if you were to open one, your hands would be dyed black by the husk. This species can also fetch quite the timber price due to their dark and sturdy wood qualities.
Onward to the woody vines and shrubs. Does anyone else always think of Monty Python and the Knights of Ni when they say shrub? A blessing and a curse. Anyway, let’s get started.
This is riverbank grape (Vitis riparia). Riverbank grape will pretty much grow anywhere that it can and it can get massive. When large enough, it has the ability to girdle trees and even kill smaller trees. They have alternate branching and simple, serrated leaves that kind of look like a heart. Their fruits are very popular with various wildlife species and we can eat them too. BUT, make sure that you are confident in your ID. Similar looking species like common moonseed (Menispermum canadense) is really toxic (yummy).
You may already recognize this plant. At least I hope so. Here we have poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). Poison ivy is a really common woody vine that can grow vertically on something, such as a tree, and on the ground like many other plants. Leaves of three, let it be, right? This is a good start, but we’ll go into a little more info that may come in handy. Poison ivy has alternate branching with simple, shallow lobed leaves. Now don’t get poison ivy confused with boxelder seedlings. Boxelder (Acer negundo) seedlings look A LOT like poison ivy, but there is a key different; boxelder have opposite branching. Knowing this difference can save you a lot of woe in the future.
Our next plant is an invasive shrub called Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii). It is one of the most common honeysuckles in the eastern U.S. and has the tendency to over-run disturbed ecosystem sites. Amur honeysuckle has opposite branching with simple, entire leaves. Mature plants, like the one in my pictures, have distinct lines running along the bark. Another fun tip to remember is that Amur honeysuckle has no soul, not only figuratively, but literally. The pith of mature stems are actually hollow! These plants also produce bright red fruits that actually cause nutritional issues for birds and small mammals. These fruits are carb-rich, unlike lipid-rich native plants. An animal can actually die with a full stomach of honeysuckle berries due to their lack of necessary nutrients. To truly get rid of a specimen, full root removal is generally necessary.
The last two species we’re looking at are flowering plants. Who doesn’t like flowers, right? Well, you might not like this next one too much.
This pretty plant is called white snakeroot (Ageratina altissima). They are a perennial with opposite, serrated leaves. White snakeroot prefer moist, forested areas and are very common. Eating the leaves and stems of this species contain a really poisonous substance called tremetol. If an animal consumes white snakeroot, it leads to a deadly condition called trembles. If humans drink milk from an animal infected with trembles, we can get something early pioneers called ‘milk sickness’. No bueno. Good news is that it very rarely happens nowadays thanks to modern dairy production and technology.
The final plant of the day is obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana). Obedient plant gets its name because if you bend an individual flower in a direction of your choice, it will stay in that position. They are a perennial with opposite, serrated leaves. This species has a neat kind of inflorescence called spikes where the flowers densely packed on the peduncle without any pedicels.
I hope you found this interesting and get the chance to check out the Olentangy Wetlands Research Park for yourself! Until next time!