Deep Woods, the Appalachian Gametophyte, and Ohio Geobotany:

Content warning: I’m way too funny on this page, and occasionally diminish my authorial distance and complicated academic jargon to make a joke. I put a lot of time into this page and Heather has to read a bunch of them anyway, so it’s fine.

Big shoutout to Extra Strength Tylenol for supporting me through the Deep Woods hike!

Substrate-associated Plants:

According to renowned Ohio Geobotanist Jane Forsyth, certain species favor the acidic sandstone hills of Eastern Ohio. Here are a few:

Eastern Hemlock

Tsuga canadensis

According to, Eastern Hemlocks may take 250-350 years to reach maturity and may live as long as 800 years! The Eastern Hemlock has “flattened” needles and needle arrangements, and according to Peterson, make poor Christmas trees. Another win for the plastic Christmas tree in my parents’ attic.

These tall trees regenerate best in shade.

Sourwood (right)

Oxydendrum arboreum

The “sour” part of this plant is the leaves, hence the name. Sourwood is “relatively short lived,” with life spans of only about 80 years. These trees have opposite leaves that can turn purple in the fall! I will keep my eyes peeled for that.

Sourwood has white flowers that are very attractive to bees and pollinators. I was excited to learn that Sourwood honey is a delicacy! Please buy me some.

Unfortunately, these are the only plants we came across on our field trip that Forsyth tells us are acid-loving, sandstone-dwelling plants. Some other plants associated with Eastern Ohio sandstone substrate are below:

Rock Cap Fern

Polypodium virginianum

According to The Biota of North America Program, Rock Cap Fern has a distinctly Eastern Ohio distribution, which we know to be associated with sandstone substrate. Below is a lovely range map that shows the species’ presence by county in light green.

This fern is pinnatifid and grows on rock structures, like the small cliff-face I photographed this on. This species is the “primary colonizer” of exposed stone surfaces. The roots and rhizomes on the bare rock accelerate erosion and soil formation. The sporophyte is the dominant stage in the plant life cycle (the big “leafy” stuff).

These were all the acidophilic sandstone-dwellers we found on the Deep Woods field trip.

Biotic Threats to Forest Health:

Gavin the Naturalist with a Chestnut Leaf

American Chestnut

Castanea dentata

Gavin is not the aforementioned threat to forest health, and it seems like he is doing a great job of promoting forest health and educating people on plant pathology and diseases such as chestnut blight. Speaking of chestnut blight, The American Chestnut Foundation calls the chestnut blight the “greatest ecological disaster to strike the world’s forests in all of history!”

The fungal parasite Cryphonectria parasitica has destroyed much of the Chestnut population in America, and has decreased chestnut wood available for building cabins, canoes, etc.. The fungus affects bark, branches, and leaves and causes eventual mortality. According to Gavin, young trees are resilient and do not succumb to the fungus in the same way that adult trees do.

There is no cure for chestnut blight, but efforts are being made (unsuccessfully, says Gavin) to hybridize susceptible American chestnuts with resilient Chinese and Japanese chestnuts, for which the fungus is only stressful and not deadly.

Eastern Hemlock (again!)

Tsuga canadensis

The Hemlock woolly adelgid is an invasive insect that feeds on the base of hemlock shoots. The insect excretes a “wooly” substance that looks like an egg sac. According to Michigan State Forestry, infested trees can die within 10 years.

To treat the infestations and save hemlocks, homeowners or naturalists can apply insecticide to trees. This insecticide application is not effectively toxic to pollinators because they are not attracted to the pollen anyway, and flowering plants do not usually grow in hemlock shade (According to Michigan State Forestry).

American Beech

Fagus grandifolia

Unfortunately for Beech trees in North America, several pathogens adversely affect Beech health. Penn State lists the following diseases:

Beech bark disease is caused by a tag-team effort from two fungal species: Cryptococcus opens “wounds” in the bark that are worsened by the fungus Nectria. The Cryptococcus can be controlled by there are currently no management solutions for the necrotic fungus.

Additionally, Phytophthora spp. of fungus can cause large bleeding cankers on Beech bark and roots. Infected trees must be removed and soil must be aerated to cleanse the fungus from the ecosystem and protect neighboring flora.

Laetiporus sulphureus causes root rot which destroys the xylem and phloem of Beech trees and causes limbs to die and fall from the trees. Since this is potentially dangerous, infected trees should be removed as to not cause damage to people or property. Below is a picture of Laetiporus sulphureus I photographed at Deep Woods.

I had no idea I was staring into the face of a rutheless killer!

Laetiporus sulphureus

Just kidding, fungi don’t have faces.

Coincidentally, that is the name of my first mycology-themed children’s book, “Fungi Don’t Have Faces,” available now on Amazon.

Appalachian Gametophyte:

Appalachian gametophyte

Vittaria appalachiana

Vittaria appalachiana, known as the Appalachian gametophyte, is unique because it exists exclusively in a vegetative gametophyte state and is one of only three fern species never known to produce sporophytes. This organism reproduces asexually via gemmae, which are generally too large to be dispersed by the wind over long distances. Instead, they are dispersed by water, over short distances by wind, or by insects or small animals, including ants and slugs (Kimmerer and Young, 1995).

This inability to disperse long distances is supported by the fact that the Appalachian gametophyte CAN survive in nature beyond the glacial boundary (when transplanted), but does not occur there by itself. On a smaller level, some substrates that could support these species do not, and they stay on the substrates which they occur and do not colonize new areas. This suggests that these ferns lost their ability to produce mature, functioning sporophytes in the time period around the last ice age.

Based on the New York distribution (not colonizing availably substrate nearby) and plastid analysis from Pinson and Schuettpelz (2016), it is not likely that the current populations are being supported by some tropical sporocyte. Rather, the current distribution is likely a result of an Appalachian gametophyte species with fully-functioning sporophytes with long-distance dispersal before the last ice age.

Additional information:

Cool stuff that’s plants:

Types of mosses:

According to Dr. Klips, there are two broad categorizations of the way mosses grow. Acrocarpous mosses are typically “unbranched” and grow upward like “small trees,” whereas pleurocarpous mosses have many small branches and grow spread out like a carpet. Here are a few different mosses I found for my scavenger hunt:

Pincushion moss

Leucobryum glaucum

This species of moss looks like small “pincushions” and has an acrocarpous growth form. According to Illinois Wildflowers, this moss is dioecious and male and female reproductive organs occur on different plants. As I’ve always said, this reproductive strategy seems like it could be very risky (do you value genetic diversity enough to risk not finding a reproductive partner?). However, pincushion moss can also reproduce asexually via rhizoids following leaf disturbance. This is especially useful when birds or chipmunks overturn these mosses while scavenging.

Harecap moss

Polytrichum commune

Aw, it’s shaped like a heart! This harecap moss was photographed in a glade on top of a ridge in Deep Woods. This moss is an acrocarp and has stiff leaves growing across its erect stalks. The calpytrum of these plants is yellow-to-white, and conspicuously hairy, thus “harecap moss.”

Common Fern Moss

Thuidium delicatulum

The common fern moss is soft and delicate to the touch, and shaped like small ferns, with leaves that are either double- or triple-pinnate. Common fern moss is a pleurocarp that grows on rotting logs and in moist ravines. The above picture is on a rotten log in a moist ravine. Bingo!

Cool stuff that’s not plants:

Orange Mycena

Mycena leaiana

What beautiful mushrooms! Excitingly, this mushroom was Tom Volk’s Fungus of the Month for September 2005. That’s not exciting, which makes that sentence funny. We can be more colloquial in this section of the webpage, right? Sure.

According to Tom, this mushroom is not known to be poisonous and the orange pigment can come off on your hands when you touch it! I will try that next time.

Northern Two-lined Salamander

Eurycea bislineata

Apparently, Northern Two-lined Salamanders have complicated courtship behaviors, including the male scratching the female and secreting from his mental gland into the female’s bloodstream.

Here’s a video from 1969 shot on film of another Eurycea species doing their courtship dance:

Northern Dusky Salamander

Desmognathus fuscus

According to the Virginia Herpetological Society, “high site tenacity” and the aggression displayed by the males “probably” means that these salamanders are territorial, but nobody has yet studied that out in that species.

That seems like something someone should study. Not me, but someone.