Big Run Park is one of the biggest parks in Columbus. It is located on the west side of Columbus, is heavily wooded, and contains wetlands. After doing a deep dive on Google for a good hour, I can confidently say that I still have no idea what kind of soil there is in the park. Soily soil. Big Run park gets a surprisingly low amount of foot traffic, and once you’re away from playgrounds and picnic tables, the forest seems relatively untouched.

PLANTS?!

Shrubs

Amur honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii

Family: Caprifoliaceae

Amur honeysuckle is a very invasive shrub that has very successfully invaded this park. It boasts oppositely arranged, simple leaves, with smooth margins. It also has some edible poisonous, pretty red fruits that line its branches.

Blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium

Family: Caprifoliaceae

Blackhaws have oppositely arranged, simple leaves, with very finely serrated margins. Their edible(!) fruit clusters at the ends of the branches. Unfortunately, none of the fruits are ripe yet, but I will report back with what they taste like once they ripen. The fruits are used to make wine, jam, or you can just eat them raw. There are recipes, and other uses, here.

Trees

Catalpa, Catalpa spp.

Family: Bignoniaceae

The catalpa leaves are cordate (heart) shaped, and can be opposite or whorled. I forgot to get a picture, but the catalpa tree also has very long legume fruits. Catalpa trees attract the Catalpa Sphinx Moth, which lay eggs on the tree. Once the moths turn into caterpillars, known as catalpa worms, they eat the leaves and can do so much damage as to defoliate the whole tree.

Honeylocust, Gleditsia triacanthos

Family: Fabaceae

First of all, can we talk about those thorns??!! Knowing how bad my balance is, I didn’t want to get anywhere near the trunk of this tree. Yeesh. The leafs are pinnately compound, simple, and arranged opposite eachother. They also have legume fruits, which I forgot to get a picture of. Too focused on the thorns. The sharp young thorns were used as pins, nails, spear points, and animal traps. During the Civil War, when the South suffered many shortages, these spines were used to pin their clothing.

Bonus tree, shagbark hickory, Carya ovata

Family: Juglandaceae

While its most notable feature is its shaggy bark, the shagbark hickory has simple, serrated, pinnately compound leaves. The hickory nuts are edible, and the wood is turned into charcoal (booo) which makes your BBQ taste like hickory.

Flowering and/or fruiting plants

Lady’s thumb, Persicaria maculosa

Family: Polygonaceae

The leaves are alternate, and simple. Hmm. Not sure what I’m supposed to talk about when it comes to flowers, so I’ll get straight to the facts. The whole plant is edible, and Native Americans used the leaves in treatments of stomach pains and poison ivy. Maybe this will help me get rid of the poison ivy I know I got trudging through the woods to get these pictures since there are barely any flowers to be found since it is September!!!!!!!

Slender yellow woodsorrel, Oxalis dillenii

Family: Oxalidaceae

Leaves are palmately compound, and are heart shaped. The yellow flowers are about 1/2 inch wide, with 5 sepals, 5 petals, 10 stamens, and 1 pistil. “Slender yellow woodsorrel can be used as flavoring in soups, stews, salads, and more. The plant contains oxalic acid, which can be toxic in high quantities but beneficial in smaller doses.” So, uh, maybe don’t use too much seasoning?

Poison ivy. It gets a whole section to itself.

Toxicodendron radicans. Family: Anacardiaceae

Man I hate this stuff. Why can’t I be one of those people that doesn’t react to poison ivy?! For identifying it, we can start with the whole “leaves of three, let them be” thing and move on from there. For the leaves, look for pointy tips and jagged edges. The middle leaf is usually bigger than the 2 side leaves, and the two side leaves are often shaped like mittens. As a general rule…just don’t touch any trifoliate leaves. As for poison ivy vines, look for any fuzzy looking vine that is stuck to the side of a tree, like the parasite it is. No touchy.


Big Run Park pt. 2

Some helpful definitions:

Coefficients of Conservatism (CC):  The CC is a number between 0 and 10, assigned to individual plant species by a panel of experts with knowledge of the native flora of a particular region. In our case for Ohio, these experts were Andreas et al. (2002). Plant species with high CC’s typically occur in high quality habitats, while species with low CC’s occur in a wide variety of conditions and generally are highly tolerant of disturbance.

Floristic quality assessment index (FQAI): The FQAI is a bioassessment method that uses characteristics of a plant community to derive an estimate of nativity or habitat quality. The equation takes into account all the CC’s of the documented plants.

The following is a list of all recorded plant species found in Big Run park. The Coefficients of Conservatism (CC) are listed in parenthesis to the right of the plant names.

Native plants:

  1. Blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium) (4)
  2. Honeylocust (Gleditsia triacanthos) (4) 
  3. Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) (6)
  4. Slender yellow woodsorrel (Oxalis dillenii) (0)
  5. Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) (1)
  6. Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) (6)
  7. Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) (3)
  8. Black walnut (Juglans nigra) (5)
  9. Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) (6)
  10. Riverbank grape (Vitis riparia) (3)
  11. Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) (0)
  12. Hairy wild rye (Elymus villosus) (4)
  13. Northern spicebush (Lindera benzoin) (5)
  14. Blue wood aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) (4)
  15. Calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) (2)
  16. White ash (Fraxinus americana) (6)
  17. Chestnut oak (Quercus prinus) (7)
  18. Winged monkeyflower (Mimulus alatus) (6)
  19. White oak  (Quercus alba) (6)
  20. Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) (5)
  21. Grey dogwood (Cornus racemosa) (1)

Invasive plants:

  1. Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii)
  2. Catalpa (Catalpa spp.)
  3. Lady’s thumb (Persicaria maculosa)
  4. Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora)
  5. Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
  6. Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

The FQAI of Big Run park, with these plants taken into account, is 19.65. Let’s be nice and round that up to 20. That’s still pretty bad. The FQAI is an indication of native vegetative quality for an area: generally 1-19 indicates low vegetative quality; 20-35 indicates high vegetative quality, and above 35 indicates “Natural Area” quality. This indicates that Big Run park is a highly disturbed area.

4 high CC plants

Ohio Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) (6)

The Ohio buckeye loses its leaves much earlier than the other trees in the forest. It is identifiable by its palmately compound leaves, with 5-7 serrated leaflets. As previously stated, the leaves often yellow much earlier than the rest of the trees. The bark is bumpy and generally, a little wonky. Native Americans once used buckeyes for both nutritional and medicinal purposes. They would crush and knead the nuts into a salve for rashes and cuts. Today, some believe that buckeyes can relieve rheumatism and arthritis pain.

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) (6)

While its most notable feature is its shaggy bark, the shagbark hickory has simple, serrated, pinnately compound leaves. The hickory nuts are edible, and the wood is turned into charcoal (booo) which makes your BBQ taste like hickory.

White ash (Fraxinus americana) (6)

White ash is characterized by having opposite, compound leaves with 5-9 leaflets. The margins of the leaflets are slightly toothed. Twigs are moderate in diameter, gray or brown in color and have leaf scars which are half-round in shape with a conspicuous v-shaped notch in the top. The fruit is a paddle-shaped samara, which often persists on the tree into winter. The samaras do not have high wildlife value but are utilized by a few species of wildlife and may have greater importance when other food sources are in short supply. Their usefulness is increased because they remain on the tree longer than many other food sources.

Swamp chestnut oak (Quercus michauxii) (7)

The leaves of the swamp chestnut oak are alternate, and simple. The fruit is a brown acorn, 1-1.5 inches long. The bark is grey/brown, and is smooth on young trees, and bumpy and ridges on older trees. Common uses include: Cabinets, furniture, interior trim, flooring, boatbuilding, barrels, and veneer.

☆ Swamp chestnut oak has such a high CC (7) because it has a lot of needs. It requires moist, but well drained soil, usually next to creeks or streams. Despite that, it is flood intolerant. Swamp chestnut oak is also shade intolerant, and requires full sunlight in order to become established.

4 low CC plants

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) (3)

Eastern redbud leaves are alternate, simple, broadly heart-shaped and 3 to 5 inches high and wide. The fruit is a ~5 inch long, brown legume. The inner bark has high concentrations of tannins, which have a wide range of medicinal uses. An infusion of the bark has been used as a febrifuge and cough suppressant, helping to treat colds, fevers, and influenza.

Riverbank grape (Vitis riparia) (3)

Riverbank grape is a woody vine with heart shaped, hairy, toothed leaves. Fruit are grapes (drupe). From personal experience, the fruit tastes like a mix of grapes, and pickles. Not only are the grapes edible, the leaves are also edible, and can be eaten in a salad or cooked.

Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) (0)

Black locust has grey/brown bark with deep furrows between flat topped ridges. The leaves are alternate, and pinnately compound, with smooth margined leaves. The fruit is a 2-4 inch long legume. Common uses include: fence posts, boatbuilding, flooring, furniture, mine timbers, railroad ties, turned objects, and veneer

☆ The black locust tree has such a low CC (0) because it is a nitrogen-fixing tree that prefers disturbed habitat, old fields, thickets and degraded woods. It crowds out native vegetation of prairies, oak savannas and upland forests, forming single species stands. It often forms dense stands where established and can choke out other vegetation.

Calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum) (2)

The calico aster is a ray flower with 9-16 white petals. The center disk starts yellow but quickly turns purple/white. Some vertebrate animals use asters as sources of food. The calico aster prefers areas with a history of disturbance.

4 invasive species

Catalpa (Catalpa spp.)

The catalpa leaves are cordate (heart) shaped, and can be opposite or whorled. I forgot to get a picture, but the catalpa tree also has very long legume fruits. Catalpa trees attract the Catalpa Sphinx Moth, which lay eggs on the tree. Once the moths turn into caterpillars, known as catalpa worms, they eat the leaves and can do so much damage as to defoliate the whole tree.

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora)

Multiflora rose is an exotic invasive perennial shrub native to China, Japan, and Korea. Multiflora rose is a climbing and rambling shrub with single stem, or at times multiple stems, which can grow up to 10+ feet tall. The branchlets have stout, curved thorns or prickles. The leaves are alternate and compound, composed of five to eleven leaflets. The serrate leaflets range in size from ½ inch to 2 inches long. It has been used for erosion control, as a fence to confine livestock, and even grown along highway medians to reduce the glare from headlights and serve as a crash barrier.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)

Oriental bittersweet is a deciduous vine with woody, twining stems that can reach 66 feet in length. The vine uses woody shrubs and trees for structural support, twining around support trunks and branches of desirable vegetation. Oriental bittersweet assumes a sprawling form on open sites, making impenetrable thickets. The vine is dioecious with male and female flowers occurring on separate plants. Leaves are alternate, oblong, from 2 to 5 inches long, and 1.5 to 2 inches wide. People collect the vines for wreaths and other fall decorations, and they end up being a method of long-range dispersal.

Autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)

Autumn olive’s bark is somewhat olive drab with many white lenticels. As it ages, the bark becomes light gray to gray-brown. The leaves are alternate and oval, with finely pointed tips. Their margins are wavy but do not have teeth. They are bright green above, with a distinctive silvery-scale below. Leaves range from 2-4 inches in length. The berries are edible raw or cooked. They have a pleasant taste that is slightly bitter. The fruit must be fully ripe before it can be enjoyed raw.

4 substrate associated species

The following plants were listed in Forsyth’s Geobotany article as being found in high lime (plus clay) substrate. I definitely agree! Due to our location in Ohio (west), we do have limey substrate. From my personal observations, the soil was also definitely clay-rich.

Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) 

Found in limestone/high-lime substrate

Eastern redbud leaves are alternate, simple, broadly heart-shaped and 3 to 5 inches high and wide. The fruit is a ~5 inch long, brown legume.

Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata)

Found in high-lime, clay-rich thick till plains

Shagbark hickory has shaggy bark, and alternate, pinnately compound leaves with 5-7 leaflets. The fruit is a nut.

White oak (Quercus alba)

Found in high-lime, clay-rich thick till plains

The leaves of a white oak are from four to nine inches long and are alternate, simple, and lobed with rounded tips. White oak’s bark looks like long scales, and can often be peeled off in small pieces.

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)

Found in high-lime, clay-rich thick till plains

Sugar maple’s leaves are opposite, simple and palmately veined, 3 to 6 inches long, with 5 delicately rounded lobes and an entire margin. It’s fruit are two-winged horseshoe samaras about 1 inch long, appearing in clusters. The bark varies, but is generally brown. On older trees it becomes darker and develops furrows.