Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hiking Hocking Hills, Conkle's Hollow

Hard to beat the hills of S.E. Ohio. Conkle's Hollow is part of the Hocking Hills region that's made up of many parks and nature preserves. The stream side bottomland forests are rich in diversity, but I wanted to concentrate on the upper portions.

The hillsides and ridgetops are dominated by Hemlock, Pine, and Oak. The soils are coarse, sandy, dry, and acidic. One need not be an expert to recognize soil types. Just look at the plants, they serve as site indicators. That's pretty much what this post is about.

This classic view still makes me weak kneed. Not because the valley is so spectacular, but because I have to stand 12 inches from the cliff to take this shot!

The ground, especially on the rock faces, is dominated by lichens. Early explorers and authors mentioned it reminded them of a tundra like appearance.

Heading up the path is an orchid indicator, the Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, Goodyera pubescens. Many people recognize the white patterned leaves, but you'll have to wait till summer to see the bloom.

Further up is yet another plant typical of these sites. Whenever I see whorled leaves like this, I know it's either Whorled Pogonia or Indian Cucumber Root.

In this case it's the latter. Indian Cucumber Root, Medeola virginica, is a type of Lily, not Orchid. The yellowish green flowers are 6 parted, and usually droop beneath the upper whorl of 3 leaves. Three maroon stigmas are also evident. This plant does well in shaded understories.

Up on the ridge, lots of new growth was noticeable on the woody ground plants. So what are these red leaved and hairy leaves?

The hairy plants are new leaves of the Trailing Arbutus, Epigaea repens, seen on the left. The red leaves belong to the plant on the right, Wintergreen or Teaberry, Gaultheria procumbens. Both are evergreen members of the Blueberry family.

Sticking with the Blueberry family (Ericaceae), This is Black Huckleberry, Gaylussacia baccata. They have urn shaped flowers like many family members, but this species has red rather than white flowers. Huckleberry looks nearly identical to our local Blueberries, but Huckleberry has golden resin dots on the plant. When not in bloom, look on the back of the leaves with a hand lens. As for now, all you need do is click on the picture for a better look.

We have two blueberry species in our immediate area, both have white flowers. On this species the flower petals spread out openly, and are not urn shaped. This is Vaccinium stamineum, known as Deerberry. When not in bloom, look for white undersides on the leaves.

While I've been discussing acid and ridgetop indicator species, this guy can be found just about anywhere. Sitting quietly along the cliff face, this Black Rat Snake seemed oblivious to the hoards of hikers. Black rat snakes are not solid black like Racers, but retain some faint white patterns like they had when younger.

Here's a better look at the white lined scales.

As I headed back down the path I came across this. Someone had picked it and left it in the walkway to be trampled on. I did my best to prop it up against a log for a shot. This is Pink Moccasin Flower, or Pink Lady's-slipper Orchid, Cypripedium acaule. This is also typical of Pine-Oak habitats in the Hocking Hills.

As I was about to leave, I noticed a couple plants I missed on the way up. Down in the wet bottomland the Showy Orchis, Galearis spectabilis was in full bloom. I know lots of people have been posting on this of late, but there was no way I could leave out such a nice species. It's an orchid of course, but the common name is spelled with an s instead of a d.

Right at the entrance to the preserve was another of my favorites, and yes I have lots of favorites :)
These stalked purple balls is what most look like right now. It's still a bit early for this species.

I did manage to find a few starting to bloom. The long trumpet shaped flowers and opposite divided leaves near the top are clues. This is Large-flowered Valerian, Valeriana pauciflora. Beginning field biology students are always asking me what this is because it's not in Newcomb. When I was a young student, I had to refer to Britton & Brown to find it. It's also not in the Peterson guide. Why many of the field guides chose to leave it out I can't answer. It's found from Illinois to Pennsylvania and south to Tennessee. In Ohio, it is concentrated in the southern half of the state.


  1. Sigh...someone picking orchids, and a Cyp to boot. Makes me upset. Did you hear from Ron or Bob about me finding someone had dug up some of the yellow lady's from a site in Zaleski? I wish people would just leave things alone!

    Excellent post, I LOVE living down here in this area and the flora contrast and vista views of CH is nigh on unbeatable.

  2. No I hadn't heard. I never took my field bio classes there just for that reason.

  3. It is the second time this spring my Newcomb's has fail me. The first was with Synandra hispidula and now with Valeriana pauciflora.Now with large-flower Valerian does it happen to prefer stream banks? Also what are the notable characteristics that separate it from garden Valerian?

    1. Not being that familiar with ornamentals, the difference to my understanding is as follows. Unless there is an occasional escape, I don't see Garden Valerian growing wild. It has fuller, rounder more dense heads. So the trumpet shape doesn't stand out like on the wild species where flowers are more spread out. The leaves are heavily divided or dissected, especially further down the plant. Some forms of the garden species (officinalis) are evergreen. I can't pinpoint just one sure way to identify Garden Valerian because there are so many varieties.