Botanical Survey Launch

This site is full of several different species of trees, shrubs, and flowers! In particular, this area of the Olentangy River has been restored over the years due to the removal of the Fifth Avenue dam. This project has helped to improve the quality of the water and provide more riparian habitats. Overall, flood plain species such as American sycamore, willow, honey locust, and silver maple are commonly seen along this stretch of the river. On drier uplands, various species of oaks, hickories, and walnuts can be found as well. The soil found at this site can be characterized by products of glacial till such as alluvium and loess deposits. There is also a higher concentration of clay content throughout the soil found closest to the river.

Here’s a map of the area for my botanical survey. I’m going along the Olentangy River between John H. Herrick Drive and Woody Hayes Drive.

One of the first species I found on my botanical survey site was a swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor). This species of oak is characteristic due to its broad leaves that have several pairs of lobes and are dark green in color. As suggested by the tree’s common name, this species is often found in bottomlands or along river banks. As a result, this tree typically does well in acidic soils.

The leaves of the swamp white oak are lobed and have a dark green color.

Another species of tree that I found at my site was Eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides). This tree has alternate simple leaves that are in the shape of a triangle. This is an easy identification characteristic as it’s also part of the scientific name, which is pretty handy. The bark is also very blocky and chunky and can easily be identified when the leaves start falling. It’s also commonly found along rivers and lowland areas. American cottonwood played an important role in Native American culture as the wood was used to make canoes and the bark was used for medicinal teas.

Cottonwood leaves have a distinct triangle shape, which connects back to its scientific name!

One of the flowering plants I saw on my journey was wand goldenrod (Solidago stricta). A great identification characteristic of this plant is that it has basal leaves that face upward in a wand-like shape. The flowers are typically yellow or orange and bloom between August and October. An interesting fact about goldenrod is that for a period of time, it was believed to cause the allergic reaction for hay fever. This has since been proven incorrect because the pollen of goldenrod is too heavy to be wind dispersed and cause allergy symptoms. The culprit is instead ragweed.

The wand structure of this goldenrod is very prominent and helpful in the identification process!

Another flowering plant that I was able to observe was night-blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum). This is such an interesting flower because they have a very strong scent and can grow in a variety of different climates. Another fun fact that I wasn’t aware of is that this flower is part of the Solanaceae (potato) family. White berries also grow on this plant and attract several species of birds, moths, and bats.

These pretty white flowers display radial symmetry and give off a strong fragrance at night.

One of the shrubs that I identified at my site was American pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). This shrub has simple leaves that grow on stems that have a very characteristic reddish, purple color. The stalks and roots of this plant are poisonous. An interesting fact about the berries of this shrub is that they can be used to dye candies, cloth, and paper a red color. Also, the stems of pokeweed can be up to 2 inches in diameter and become hollow as the plant matures.

The thick diameter and bright color of the stem can easily be seen in this picture of American pokeweed!

Another fun shrub that I discovered was pawpaw (Asimina triloba) and it even had fruit on it! This shrub is multi-stemmed and usually pretty short. However, the leaves can be very broad and long, looking almost tropical. These shrubs typically grow in well-drained soils but have recently been found moving up to drier upland forests. Another neat feature of this shrub is the fruit they grow. It’s described as having a banana taste with hints of mango and citrus. An interesting animal-plant connection between this shrub is that deer do not enjoy the taste, so they typically don’t browse on seedlings or saplings. As a result, it’s likely that pawpaw will become more common in heavily deer-browsed forests.

Look at these huge pawpaw leaves! And if you look closely in the background you’ll find some fruit!

Last but not least, poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) can’t be forgotten. This type of plant is known to cause an allergic reaction due to a type of oily resin found in the leaves, stems, and roots. Coming in contact with poison ivy can cause rashes that have the potential to be itchy for weeks, making it even more important to be able to recognize this plant. The easiest phrase to identify this species is “leaves of three, let it be.” This is because poison ivy is trifoliate and typically the stalk of the middle leaf is longer than the other two. If found growing on a vine, the vine will often have many little hairs along it, which is another great indicator.

When you see a plant looking like this, it’s best not to touch it!