Part 1: Geobotany of Ohio

The geology of Ohio can be neatly divided in two parts; west, and east. The western part has substrate primarily consisting of limestone (and some dolomite). Limestone doesn’t like Ohio’s humid climate, and as a result, the western part of Ohio has been eroded down to a rather flat landscape (over a period of 200 million years). By comparison, eastern Ohio’s substrate primarily consists of sandstone, which is sort of like natural cement (pretty erosion resistant). There is often shale right underneath the sandstone, which in contrast is very easily eroded. The shale is often worn away, unless it is capped in sandstone, so as a result erosion has successfully carved out deep valleys in eastern Ohio.

The original sequence of sedimentary rock strata in Ohio was in this order: limestone on the bottom, shales in the middle, and sandstone on top. It was tilted in the form of a low arch before erosion began. The crest of the arch was in western Ohio, while the toe of the arch was in the east. Most of this erosion was down by a famous preglacial stream called the Teays River. The Teays flowed through Ohio for about 200 million years, before being stopped by the advance of the glaciers of the Ice Age.

When the Pleistocene glaciers invaded Ohio a few hundred thousand years ago (ish), they were greatly slowed down by the steep-sided sandstone hills of eastern Ohio,  so the glacial boundary there is no farther south than the latitude of Canton.

Illustration from “Linking Geobotany and Botany… a new approach”








Glacial “till” is made up of an unsorted mixture of sand, silt, clay, and boulders. In western Ohio, the glacial till is rich in lime and clay. In eastern Ohio, most of the till contains very little lime and clay.

In western Ohio, the most common substrate is limey, clayey till, which provides a relatively impermeable soil, high in lime but poorly drained and inadequately aerated. Despite that, the soil tends to have an abundant amount of plant nutrients. In eastern Ohio, the very permeable sandstone bedrock, where it is exposed, produces a very acidic, low nutrient substrate which is especially dry on the tops of the hills.

5 species of tree that have a distribution greatly limited to limestone or limey substrates

1. Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)

Leaves: Opposite, simple, palmately veined, 5 lobes. Fruit: Horseshoe shaped samaras

2. Northern red oak (Quercus rubra)

Leaves: Alternate, simple, 5 to 8 inches long, lobed. Fruit: Acorns are 3/4 to 1 inch long and nearly round

3. Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)

Leaves: Alternate, pinnately compound, 8 to 14 inches long. Fruit: Round nut with husk. Bark: Shaggy ūüôā

4. White oak (Quercus alba)

Leaves: Alternate, simple, oblong to ovate in shape, 4 to 7 inches long. Fruit: Ovoid to oblong acorn, cap is warty and bowl-shaped.

5. American beech (Fagus grandifolia)

I unfortunately could not find a fifth limey tree from that list myself, so here are some helpful pictures from Virginia Tech’s dendrology department. Leaves: Alternate, simple, elliptical to oblong-ovate. Bark: smooth, thin, and grey.

5 species of trees/shrubs with a distribution limited to high-lime, clay-rich substrates (glacial till of western Ohio):

  1. Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
  2. American beech (Fagus grandifolia)
  3. Red oak (Quercus rubra)
  4. Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)
  5. White oak (Quercus alba)

5 species of trees/shrubs with a distribution limited to the sandstone hills of eastern Ohio:

  1. Chestnut oak (Quercus montana)
  2. Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
  3. Scrub pine (Pinus virginiana)
  4. Pitch pine (Pinus rigida)
  5. Mountain maple (Acer spicatum)

The sweet buckeye (Aesculus flava)¬†and the hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)¬†are both distributed through the unglaciated regions of Ohio, in the southeast. The sweet buckeye probably prefers this region because it requires low amounts of limestone in it’s substrate in order to be able to reproduce. The hemlock probably prefers this region because it prefers the moist and cool climates deep in the ravines (proof: huge forest of hemlocks in the Hocking Hills ravines). Finally, the rhododendron species is only found south of the glacial boundary. It represents one of the several species who lived/lives in the Appalachian highlands, and migrated down through the Teays River system to southern Ohio.


Part 2. Batelle Darby Metro Park

Teal Harrier Trail

Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)
Grass species (in order):
1. Giant foxtail (Setaria faberi) 2. Smooth brome (Bromus inermis) 3. Ripgut (Sporobolus michauxianus)

Cedar ridge picnic area

Blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium)
American basswood (Tilia americana)
Chinkapin oak (Quercus muehlenbergii)
Evidence of 1/2 phyllotaxy:
Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra)

Indian Ridge Area

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) (what a name!)
Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium)
Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
Goldenrods (a lot of them)

From left to right, tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima), more tall goldenrod, stiff-leaved goldenrod (Solidago rigida) and then a whole bunch of tall goldenrods.

Scavenger hunt #1, Prairie dock

Man, I walked around the Indian Ridge area for forever because I couldn’t find any prairie dock. There were a ton of sawtooth sunflowers, and woodland sunflowers, though. I was wondering if they weren’t meant to be on the list until I realized…there was a ton of prairie dock. They were just all dead! The only reason I found them was their huge basal leaves. Although the resinous sap has a turpentine-like odor, grazing animals find this plant palatable. As with other rosinweeds, the gummy sap that it exudes was used by Native Americans and pioneers as a kind of chewing gum.

Part 3. Cedar Bog

Cedar Bog is a bit of a crappy name for this location, given that it is…not a bog. It is a Fen! Fens flow, bogs clog! Fens receive water via rain, surface runoff, groundwater, and underground springs. The water eventually¬†flows¬†out of the fen via tiny streams. Fens, for the most part, have a neutral or slightly alkaline pH. Bogs, on the other hand clog.¬†Water still enters a bog via rain and surface runoff, but there is no way for water to escape a box, except for evaporation. Since bogs are clogged, dead plants create a decomposing layer of peat, which makes the pH of bogs quite acidic.

Scavenger hunt #2: Goldenrods spp.

1: Tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) 2: Grey goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis) 3: Ohio goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis) 4: Wrinkle-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa) 5: Wrinkle-leaved Goldenrod (Solidago rugosa)

How to recognize them? If its yellow and fluffy, its probably a goldenrod. Good luck with the rest! There are about 130 species of goldenrod, and they all look the same!

This wild plant if often foraged for its anti-inflammatory properties. It has been used both internally and topically to reduce swelling, to treat minor wounds, gout, kidney stones, and arthritis. Goldenrod can be crushed and used either fresh or dried in poultices, salves, tinctures, to make soap, or placed in gel capsules for measured doses.

Bonus pictures from Cedar Bog