Deep Woods, the Appalachian Gametophyte, and Ohio Geobotany

While at Conkle’s Hollow in the Hocking Hills, I was assigned to find and ID two vines.

Vine #1: Redberry Greenbrier, Smilax laurifolia

According to Petrides’ field guide, the redberry greenbrier has narrow leaves with a flatter base, and thorns only grow on the lower portion of the plant, which was accurate for this plant. They like sandy, acidic soil and grow red berries in October.

Vine #2: Common Greenbrier, Smilax rotundifolia

This greenbrier grows all throughout the upper rim of Conkle’s Hollow. The leaves are more rounded and heart-shaped, and the thorns are more stout and grow all over the plant. They grow a blue-black berry through the winter.

Conkle’s Hollow is located in southeastern Ohio and is very characteristic of the geobotany found in this area. According to Jane Forsyth, the soil in eastern Ohio is based in sandstone, which makes it acidic and dry. This is because the area remained not glaciated, while western Ohio was under a glacier for a long period of time. The tops of hills contain the driest substrate, and that is where trees such as chestnut oak, sourwood, and pines. This was very accurate as Conkle’s Hollow has a gorge trail and a rim trail, and when in the gorge, these plants were not seen, but as I entered the rim, I started seeing them everywhere. Eastern hemlock was also very common in this area, along with small shrubs and vines such as greenbriers and mountain laurel.

Plants I observed that are consistent with Forsyth’s research:

Eastern hemlock

The light undersides of eastern hemlock needles

Mountain laurel

Chestnut oak leaf

Chestnut oak

Various pines, maples, oaks

My mother on the rim

Red maple

Pitch pine (coloring slightly off due to flash)

(It should be noted that Smilax species were also on Forsyth’s list, and I found plenty of those!)

Classifying the Appalachian Gametophyte: 

After reading an excerpt from “Flora of West Virginia” (1964) and the article “Unraveling the Origin of the Appalachian Gametophyte” (2016) I learned how I would classify the Appalachian Gametophyte. The Appalachian Gametophyte (Vittaria appalachiana) is a type of fern that only has a gametophyte phase. Ferns typically have both a gametophyte and a sporophyte phase. Rather than reproducing by spores, it uses gemmae, which are tiny bundles of cells. It is very widespread across the eastern U.S., suggesting that the species used to have a sporophyte phase that has been selected out. It resembles a tiny branching, pale-green, translucent liverwort.

Marsh, Prairie, and Fen

MARSH: Along Darby Creek Drive, we visited a marsh environment. The marsh consisted of low-lying land that was damp and covered with grasses, sedges, and some herbaceous plants. There were no tall trees for several acres, but there were some baby willow trees growing. Most of the grass consisted of Indian grass and big bluestem. There were also sedges, goldenrods, and false white indigo.

View of the marsh

A sedge known as Woolgrass


PRAIRIE: The prairie was very similar to the marsh except it was not as wet. It was dominated by grass and had less than one tree per acre. The prairie grasses we saw were big bluestem, Indian grass, nodding wild rye, and switch grass. Some herbaceous plants we saw were prairie dock, various goldenrods, pasture thistle, and false white indigo.

In the foreground, nodding wild rye, surrounded by some big bluestem.


CEDAR “BOG”: Cedar Bog is not a bog, but a fen. A fen is a type of wetland that is characterized by having a flow of water from underground. Cedar Bog was located near the edge of a glacier. Fens are less acidic than bogs, and bogs collect their water from other sources. Often, when looking at the water in a fen, you can that it is flowing, whereas bog water is more stagnant. Cedar Bog is misnamed because they two are very similar, and “bog” is perhaps catchier.

Scavenger Hunt Assignment: Find two Goldenrods

Goldenrod #1: Bog Goldenrod, Solidago uliginosa

Yes, yes, even though it was found in the sedge meadow of a fen, this is technically called a bog goldenrod. You can tell this plant apart from other goldenrods by its thin, lance-shaped leaves that are very mildly toothed. They are found in areas with high levels of limestone and in bogs. The branches of the flowers are very upright, which further distinguishes it. Most other goldenrods that look similar to this one have wider leaves with more dramatic serration and are generally droopier. External Fun fact: This species of goldenrod is more resistant to deer and is great for pollinators and it will grow in wet, “unexceptional” conditions (Source:

Goldenrod #2: Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis

Canada Goldenrod has stems 2-6 inches tall and the flowering stems form a panicle with tiny flower heads. The leaves are narrowly lance-shaped and sharply toothed. The flower rays are very tiny. This flower can be found in fields, along roadsides, and in prairies. This particular specimen was found along the boardwalk of Cedar Bog in a more shaded, woody area. External Fun Fact: Canada Goldenrod has a lot of variation within the species depending on specific ecotypes (Source: