The Gorge Trail
The gorge trail at Sharon Woods, the oldest Hamilton County park, runs along the steep wooded edge of Sharon Creek. Prehistoric fossils scatter the creek bed and steep hills were left behind by the once glaciated region. The clayey soils are evident along the edges cut along the creek. The creek is actually quite wide and even has waterfalls at certain points. I enjoy hiking here and the large creek makes for great creekin’. I hope you enjoy reading about the trees and plants I found on my many hikes here.
Standing guard at the start of the trail is a honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos. The alternate compound leaves with many leaflets (pinnate) may not seem too daunting but the honey locust is armed with sharp, branched clusters of thorns. Native Americans used the honey locust for medicinal and culinary purposes. They ground the dried legumes of the tree into a powder and used it as a sweetener. According to the USDA, in doing so they unintentionally extended the range of the honey locust which, today, is found in much of the midwest.
Okay I admit it—I must have a sweet tooth, because after passing by the honey locust unscathed, I spotted this sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua. The unique star shaped, slightly serrate leaves are alternately arranged. The sweetgum gets its name because hardened clumps of the sap can be chewed like gum and my guess is, it tastes sweet.
Lucky for me the gorge trail is not a loop! Why is that lucky you may ask—sounds rather inconvenient actually. But alas, going the same way out as in allowed me to scour the area. A bright purple flower caught my eye the second time around. This wonderful spiderwort has long alternate entire leaves and a bright purple, three petal flower. I was hoping maybe it would be an Ohio Spiderwort, but the hairy sepals and flower stalks mean unfortunately it is probably just Tradescantia virginiana not Tradescantia ohiensis. Fun fact, purple is my favorite color!
Jumping from rock to rock down in the creek, I surprisingly stumbled across this yellow iris, Iris pseudacorus. Although this flower has escaped from cultivation, it was thriving so nicely in right on the edge of the creek, practically in the water. It is considered an invasive in Ohio but it was sparse along the Sharon Creek.
Here is an appendaged waterleaf, Hydrophyllum appendiculatum, it is characterized by its harry stem, lobed leaves, and cluster of bell shaped flowers. It is a woody flower and it is not typically white but usually purple.
Shown above, I believe I have discovered a mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia with pointed, leathery leaves. The leaves of the gnarly shrub are actually poisonous to cattle, sheep, and deer.
I did stumble across the common privet, Lingustrum vulgare. This shrub has escaped from cultivation and can be invasive.
Above is some kind of prickly bramble! The early fruits make it difficult to tell exactly what fruit is developing (rasberry or blackberry) but based off of the rounded, toothed leaves occurring in 3’s, it is being identified as a red raspberry, Rubus idaeus.
As I was scrambling down to the creek I nearly avoided a run in with this toxic plant….poison ivy (Rhus radicans). This trifoliate shrub or vine contains an irritating resin on all parts of the plant. The fruit of poison ivy are small, white, smooth, and clustered.
Plants and Trees by Coefficients of Conservation
Plant species were assigned a Coefficient of Conservation value (CC value) that describes the significance of that particular species’ presence in terms of how natural a plant community is (or how similar it is to the pre-settlement community). The CC values are region specific and function on a scale of 0-10. The higher the CC value, the more specialized that plant is, meaning it needs particular habitat requirements and does not thrive easily in disturbed areas. Introduced/alien species are not given a CC number. Below these plants have been ranked by their CC values determined by the Floristic quality assessment index (FQAI) of Ohio https://ohioplants.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Ohio_FQAI.pdf.
The common yellow wood sorrel, Oxalis stricta, can be identified by its notched leaflets in 3’s (resembling a clover) and their small yellow flowers. It has a CC value of 0. This rating means it has a high degree of tolerance for varying ecosystems.
Here is a wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, characterized by its round, sweet, red fruit. A strawberry is considered an accessory fruit. According to the OSU PPGSA wild strawberries have been around for thousands of years and Native Americans even baked strawberry bread with them!
It has a CC value of 1, meaning it is widespread and not associated with a specific community.
Up next is a kind of moss. This necklace/graceful chain moss, leskea gracilescens, has a small, green gametophyte that covers the old log and the red stalk of the sporophyte stands up straight capped with a greenish yellow sporangium. The gametophyte and sporophyte are actually two separate plants although they are attached here.
The CC value of this moss is a 3 which signals a somewhat stable community but these plants can survive through some disturbances.
I quickly spotted redbud, Cercis canadensis, along my hike because of its distinctive heart shaped, smooth leaf. The redbud has a low CC value of 3. As mentioned above pertaining to the moss, this value means redbud can survive an “intermediate range of ecological tolerances”.
The Ohio buckeye, Aesculus glabra, is generally a smaller tree with narrow, pointed, palmately compound leaves. Did you know it is the state tree of Ohio! The buckeye fruit has weak spikes on the husk when young shown here. The CC value for the Ohio buckeye is a 6. It has a narrow range of tolerance within an ecosystem so the community must be pretty stable for it to thrive.
The tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera, grows in fertile woods and is characterized by its unique lobed leaf and its green, orange, and yellow flowers. I came across several tulip trees by following the scattered colorful petals of the fallen flowers. They spread everywhere on the ground near the tree making it quite easy to track them down, especially while hiking. The tulip tree has a CC value of 6, meaning it does thrive in specific ecological conditions and only has some range for disturbances.
The pawpaw tree, Asimina tribola, has recognizably large leaves that are alternate and simple. I love spotting a pawpaw and it is one of the trees I have always been able to identify thanks to my summers spent at various Cincinnati nature camps. However, I did not know until this past year that the fruit were edible! The pawpaw has a CC value of 6 so it signifies a stable and healthy community closer to the pre-settlement makeup of the area. I spotted many pawpaw along the gorge trail and although they can survive some disturbances, they thrive when specific ecosystem requirements are met.
As mentioned above, the mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia is a gnarly shrub with pointed, leathery leaves. The CC value for the mountain laurel is a 7. I was happy to find this laurel because the high CC value means it has less tolerance for disturbances which signifies a stable, more “natural”, near “climax” community.
I found some chestnut oak, Quercus prinus, far from the creek edge and uphill. The chestnut oak has a broad, deeply toothed, somewhat leathery leaf. It can also be identified by its dark, deeply ridged bark. I found the chestnut oak difficult to identify at first because I did not think the leaf resembled the more common oak leaves (red or white) that I am familiar with. But in fact it is an oak! The chestnut oak has a CC value of 7. This means it enjoys specific ecosystem characteristics (dry upland woods) and can only survive some disturbances. Seeing this tree in several difference places across Sharon Park was a good sign that the ecosystem in general may be stable.
Sharon woods is a heavily trafficked urban wooded park and improving the signage would surely engage and further educate many of the visitors! Here are some of the signs I found on my hikes at the park.
Two signs just posted at restoration sights were right to the point! I understand the urgency is to deter hikers from invading the restoration site but these signs miss an opportunity to share with the community what restoration is taking place and why.
My inspiration for these sign was the informative sign above that touched on several aspects of the trail. I focused on geobotany because it is actually relatively easy to point out connections along the gorge trail. I also focused on further explaining restoration because I think its important for people to understand why its needed!
*EDIT! I meant SUGAR maple not sweet maple! There is no such thing as a sweet maple, however the sap of the SUGAR maple, Acer saccharinum, is sweet!