What is the Adena Brook/Overbrook Ravine?

The Adena Brook ravine, or Overbrook ravine, is a series of ravine located in the Clintonville community of Columbus. It is currently surrounded by residential homes, however they sit right off of the ravine, either on the upslopes or at the top. It used to be home to the Adena American Indians, as excavations discovered many burial grounds (complete with bones of skeletons), and other indicators such as a plethora of arrow heads. It is thought that many of the people lived down at the bottom of ravines and traded at the top of the ravine slopes where houses now reside. The ravine today does have streets going through portions of it, but the ravine beds of natural shale are further off the path. It is home today to many native plants, wildlife, and fish (mainly minnows). As seen in this overview, the ravine has a dominant oak-maple overstory and much more variety in its understory, which is mostly shaded.

Satellite view of ravine running along many of the modern streets

Here are some neat things I found here!

Now on to plants ! The first one up is American Elm (Ulmus americana), a native tree that is great for much of the local wildlife, and it is normally found in well drained, wet soils. The two major elm trees found in Ohio are both easily identifiable by the touch, since their bark is very spongy! It can become a little difficult to differentiate the American from the slippery elm, but the key is to peel or cut a piece of the bark off. If it is an American elm, there should be a layering of the bark that is brown and white, almost looking like the chocolate and vanilla in neapolitan ice cream (can be seen in the middle of the tree, to the right of the moss). Its leaf arrangement is simple and alternate, its leaves are doubly serrated, and feel super bristly and rough on the top but not on the bottom. A fun fact about this tree is that lmost every part of it has various uses to humans! The American elm is a softer hardwood, but its wood is still used for many things such as furniture, baskets, and even hockey sticks. The stems of leaves has historically been used for paper, but the bark has an outrageous amount of uses throughout history. If prepared in a decoction or infusion, the bark has been used to treat bleeding of the lungs, coughs, influenza, dysentery, diarrhea, cramps, appendicitis, eye infections and even more!

Ulmus americana bark
can faintly make out American elm leaves, but really just a picture for an idea of the canopy cover throughout the ravine!

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is a peculiar, but a common tree found around Ohio and in the Adena brook ravine. Its bark, shown below, is a more reddish brown color and is very blocky (but quite pleasing to look at!). Its leaves are alternate and pinnately compound, with anywhere from 9-21 leaflets, but no terminal leaf (at the very end). One extremely fun fact about the black walnut is that the leaves, roots, and other portions of the tree actually give off a poisonous compound that kills off other plants around it! While this does not hurt animals, it can give humans contact dermatitis sometimes. The wood of the black walnut is very valuable, and the walnuts themselves are valuable for wildlife and humans.

a large black walnut!

One fun woody vine I found that isn’t super common everywhere (and has one of the better latin names) is the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). It its known to just keep growing up anything, from trees to fences to anything vertical, and can reach heights of up to 100 feet! It is best identifiable by its 5(some times 3) leaflets that look like a hand (palmate), and its long petioles that allow the leaves to face towards the sky! Virginia creeper are great for wildlife in many ways, including producing a dark purple fruit that many birds love, and a great habitat and nesting spot for small mammals and birds. A great fact including that it can grow to ridiculous heights, is that if grown into buildings, it does such a good job covering walls that it can actually keep the building cool, and reduce air conditioning use!

the palmate leaves of the Virginia creeper

English ivy (Hedera helix) is a very common vine that not only grows in the wild, but is very common to see on buildings. It is best identifiable by its chordate, lobed leaves as shown below. It is great for purifying air in an indoor setting, and even has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in the leaves!

the chordate leaves of English ivy (NEXT TO A POISON IVY VINE!)

While I could not find a good example of the leaves, riverbank grape is found all over Ohio, typically near, surprise, water. It has big chordate leaves that are serrated, and produce grapes that are somewhat tasty to humans, but hard to find when ripe since many animals eat them very quickly. It is best known for its absolutely ridiculous vines, that can grow in funky ways for hundreds and hundreds of feet! The picture below is a great example of a singular vine wrapped around a tree and going various ways.

Riverbank grape that has grown throughout different trees

This plant was (literally) a flower among thorns with the gross amount of garlic mustard all throughout the ravine, but none the less was quite prevalent. This is the Downy Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera pubescens), and it is part of the Orchis family. It has individual flowers in a clump of two growing vertically in a dense, cylindrical spike, which means it does not grow on just one side or in a spiral fashion. The basal leaves area regular tear drop shaped, with white veins.

Another wild flower that was very infrequently present, but in dense clumps, was the Racemed Milkwort (Polygala polygama). Its flowers are a rose-purple (and extremely rarely white), and they are about 1/4″ long in a raceme 1-4″ long. the leaves are lace shaped and are about 1″ long themselves. Milkworts themselves have been used across history for medicinal purposes, one ancient Greek writing described them as a useful aid in lactation for new mothers.

Local Stomping Grounds in Trouble?

The Adena Brooke Ravine is quite a popular place for local residents and outsiders alike to come and walk, whether alone or with their dogs. The question I had in my brain while surveying this site was how much it had changed in just one or two hundred years from human development and activity, but also if the plants were okay to be walking on or if they should be more protected. A perfect way to do this is by looking at Coefficients of Conservatism and Floristic Quality Assessment Index (FQAI). These coefficients were created by Andrea et. all in 2004, and are used to describe how rare plants are, and how well they grow on a variation of sites. The CCs are graded on a scale of 0-10, and the lower the score is, the better they can survive disturbances or the more habitats it can exist in.

FQAI Plant List

  1. American elm (Ulmus americana) – 2
  2. Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra) – 3
  3. Black walnut (Juglans nigra) – 5
  4. Northern red oak (Quercus rubra) – 6
  5. White oak (Quercus alba) – 6
  6. Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) – 6
  7. Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) – 5
  8. Red maple (Acer rubrum) – 2
  9. Bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) – 5
  10. Black cherry (Prunus serotina) – 3
  11. Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) – 4
  12. American basswood (Tilia americana) – 6
  13. Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis) – 7
  14. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) – 6
  15. Callery Pear (Pyrus calleryana) – *****
  16. Round-leaf greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia) – 4
  17. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) – *****
  18. English Ivy (Hedera helix) – *****
  19. Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) – *****
  20. Spice-bush (Lindera benzoin) – 5
  21. Riverbank grape (Vitis riparia) – 3
  22. poison ivy (Toxicodendrin radicans) – 1
  23. Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) – 2
  24. Downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens) – 6
  25. Racemed Milkwort (Polygala polygama) – 10

According to this list of CC values, the total FQAI score for my site was 21.17, which was found by the sum of the CCs divided by the square root of the number of species (21). This was done without factoring in the non-native plants found on my site.

The Four Highest CC Values

The Racemed Milkwort (Polygala polygama) came in with the highest CC value, scoring a whopping 10. According to the ODNR, this wildflower has a threatened status, growing on dry to moist, usually sandy-soils. I found this very interesting after using the Web Soil Survey to discover that the soils here were an Alexandria silt loam, not sandy. Beyond the quality of soils, it does seem to like to grow in open woods and wooded edges, which is exactly where it was growing

The American sycamore tree, or Platanus occidentalis, has a CC value of 7, being the second highest on my species list. The sycamore also grows on moist soils, specifically constantly moist soils that do not dry out. This is key for it being so high of a CC value, since it really mostly found near streams and waterways (ravines and rain gardens included)

I had several species come in a tie for third in respect to CC values, so I am going to choose to focus on the Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) and the American basswood (Tilia americana). The Ohio buckeye typically likes moist soils, and is suited to for different soil conditions including light sandy soils, heavy clay soils, as well as medium loamy soils. It is a higher CC value due to its affinity for more moist soils, since more our wetlands have disappeared, leaving less natural terrain for it to grow. The American basswood is very similar, growing in the same qualities of soil, as well as preferring moist, well drained soils. It’s high CC value reflects that of the Ohio buckeye, in that it grows more towards waterways and other moist sites like ravines, so the Adena Brook is great place for it.

The Four Lowest CC Values

The lowest CC value in my site scored a 1, and it belongs to Toxicodendrin radicans, or poison ivy. It is best recognizable by its 3 pinnate leaflets and its very hairy vines (as seen above). Its value seems fitting, since it can grow almost anywhere, but it does prefer more moist soils. This preference tends to have it grow more so in forest locations, specifically more so near water, but again can be found all across Ohio.

The Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)is graded as a 2 in respect to CC values, due to its ability to grow almost everywhere, similar to poison ivy. This is due to its preference of well drained soils (which makes more sense for it to grow in a site like mine), but it also has a tolerance for soil composition, pH, and alkalinity.

American elm (Ulmus americana) also was graded as a 2 for its CC value, which is not surprising if you have ever taken inventory in different sites through Ohio. It grows best on well drained, loamy soils, and this was definitely noted on my site since there were large groups of young saplings growing in the understory. That being said, it can grow in a multitude of habitats, including bogs, silts, and poorly drained clays and sands, which is reflected in its low score.

Red maple (Acer rubrum) is the last species graded at a low score of 2 for its CC value. While it does prefer poorly drained moist soils, it has a very good drought resistance. This allows it to grow, albeit not as well, in a variety of acidic (and sometimes slightly basic) loamy, sandy, and clay soils. This can allow it to grow rather well in most sites, in addition to how fast its vertical growth is once it takes hold of the soils.

Invasive Plants in The Adena Brook

I was able to find four invasive, or non-native plants in the ravine, which happen to be the four that do not have CC values. These are the English ivy, Amur honeysuckle, and garlic mustard. The English ivy is photographed and discussed above. Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is one of the most annoying, pervasive, and persistent invasive bushes that we have in Ohio. It is best identifiable by its vibrant red berry fruits, simple opposite leaves, and its dense branches that are tan and distinctly striped. It was brought over from Asia, and is extremely successful at taking over the understory of forests due to its extended (more importantly, earlier) growing season and its resistance to freezing. Its copious amount of bright berries and white flowers also attract a lot of wildlife (which conveniently, is terrible for them since the fruit provides extremely little nutrients), allowing for the spreading to come easily.

Lonicera maackii, with the stripped branches seen on the left, its leaves and berries also visible.

Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive flowering plant to Ohio that is part of the, go figure, mustard family (Brassicaceae). This was probably the worst of the three invasives found on my site. It is typically around 2-3 feet in height, but can even grow up to 6 feet. Its lower leaves are almost kidney shaped, and it’s flowers are white clusters at the end of the stem. Garlic mustard grows incredibly well in wet soils (which checks out for my site), and can also grow very well on steep inclines. It is important to be careful with removal of the plant, as if they are cut many more stocks can form rather than just the single one from the original. Pulling the weed is much more effective (and painstaking), but carefully assuring seeds aren’t being sown everywhere, since they can last in the soil for up to 10 years.

A cluster of one of the many many many garlic mustard plants found in the Adena Brook Ravine

The Callery pear tree (Pyrus calleryana) is the last species of my invasive plants. I did not grab a photo of it since it was a small sapling and rather unimpressive, but a better one and tips on identification can be found in the “trees” portion of my website. The callery pears prefer moist and well drained soils, and are very tolerant of moist soil conditions like alkalinity and clay. The callery pear is resistant to just about every kind of disease that affects the native pear trees, which was the reason they were originally brought here.

Substrate Associated Plants

The Northern red oak (Quercus rubra), white oak (Quercus alba), and the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) are all associated with high-lime and clay-rich substrates. The Norther red oaks are best recognized by their ski-sloped ridges going up and down the tree, as well as their pointy oak leaves (the veins extend past the margins, rather than the leaves being rounded like white oaks). In comparison, the white oaks tend the be a little more stout in height (unless a very old 100+ year old individual), and have a scaled, shallowly furrowed bark, and have rounded lobes on their leaves. The sugar maple has a simple leaf, with 3-5 lobes on it, which is very similar to the red maple. The main difference in telling these leaves apart is the middle lobe, where it almost inverts before coming to point at the end of the margin. The sugar maple also has black colored terminal buds.

In other parts of site, red maples (Acer rubrum) were more common, which makes sense as Jane Forsyth described them as inhabiting more poorly drained but moist soils. This tree is differentiated from the sugar maple by its leaf’s middle lobe (also simple, 3-5 lobes) being shaped more like a triangle to the margin.