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, Old Mans Cave

There are those who say if you like hiking Conkle's Hollow, you'll LOVE hiking Old Man's Cave. What's not to like. This glacial remanent forest is more typical of what you would expect to see in Canada. A lot of disjunct or out of place species can be found here.

One of those species is the Yellow Birch, Betula alleghaniensis. These are an indicator species of the Northern Hardwood Forest, or those forests bordering the upper Great Lakes and the New England states. I know of a few other locations it's found down here, but Hocking Hills has the largest populations. Another northern species found here is Black Birch, Betula lenta. Also known as Sweet or Cherry Birch, Black has dark bark that doesn't peel. This Yellow Birch can be recognized by the duck tail curls or wood shavings look to the trunk.

Often mistaken for baby Hemlock trees, this is Canada Yew, Taxus canadensis. This is a common understory plant with leaves similar to Eastern Hemlock. In fact another common name is Ground-hemlock. Yew leaves are green on both sides, where Hemlock has white stripes underneath. The leaves have a dark green look when growing side by side with Hemlock.

Taxus is not in the Pine family because the fruit is an aril, not a cone. Red and hollow, and with a poisonous green seed in the middle. Many have seen the ornamental species planted in yards, but Canada Yew is a native species.

Some of the wildflowers encountered on this hike include White Baneberry, Actaea pachypoda. The white flowers are in peak bloom right now, but it's a plant often overlooked.

It's hard to miss once it goes to seed. The white berries and red stems of the "dolls eyes" are poisonous.

There are two varieties of this Buttercup, Ranunculus hispidus. In drier sights it's referred to as Hispid Buttercup, and in wetter areas, the Swamp Buttercup. In the moister areas, look for the whitish stems with outward protruding hairs.

It's not in bloom yet, but even then the flowers are small and not showy. It's Sullivant's Alumroot, Sullivantia sullivantii. Hmm, you think maybe it's named after someone called Sullivan? It's not a common plant. Look for round leaves highly serrated, and growing on wet rock outcrops.

This is not blooming yet either, but you'd be surprised how many people don't recognize the springtime maroon look of Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron radicans.

I'm a bit early on this one too. The small white flowers may not look spectacular, but it's much showier in full bloom. It's Canada Mayflower, Maianthemum canadense.

I posted this last year, but I can't visit the Hocking Hills without my favorite of the phloxes, Creeping Phlox, Phlox stolonifera. The un-notched pink petals make it stand out from the other phlox species. In Ohio, it is restricted to just the counties surrounding the Hocking Hills.

While this and European Columbine are common in flower gardens, nothing beats seeing this native in the wild. Wild Columbine is peaking right now. Aquilegia canadensis is common in sandy soils throughout the Hocking Hills. Red-orange petals and sepals combine to form what looks like the top of a kings crown. Yellow reproductive parts protrude from the bottom. Only the divided leaves look anything like its relatives, the Buttercups.

One of the most common species of ragwort in our area is the Golden Ragwort, Senecio aurea, now in the genus Packera. It's found in many habitat types.

The upper leaves are narrow and finely divided. The lower leaves are very broad and round. Both sets of leaves need to be examined to separate it from other ragwort species.

One of the main purposes of my hike this day was to locate any new violets. I found nearly 10 species, most of which I posted in March 2011.  I just want to show some similar species and their differences. This is the Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia. It is so common everywhere people often just ignore it. But there are so many similar species you have to be careful.

Like this one for example. This is Marsh Blue Violet, Viola cucullata. The petals are often lighter than Blue Violet, with the petal bases being darker. A click on the photo will show the clubbed ends to the beard inside, another hint it's Marsh Blue.

Another clue to look for, the flowers are on stalks growing well above the leaves.

When I saw this one, I knew I had something different. This is the Southern Wood Violet, Viola hirsutula. I had never photographed it before, and too bad my depth of field was terribly off that day. The key features are in the leaves. They are rounder than most violets, and the leaves lay flat against the ground. The overall color includes a pale gray sheen to the surface. The undersides, (which I forgot to shoot) have purple veins throughout the leaf.

Just when you think you have your violets down, along comes something like this. I've seen these a lot, and always thought it was a Common Blue Violet hybrid. Well I was close, it is a hybrid. This is Viola rostrata X striata, which means it's a cross between Long-spurred and Pale Cream Violet. It's nice having Dr. Harvey Ballard, a violet expert, so nearby to verify such sightings.

Now here is another one that had me stumped. I figured it was one of the million varieties of Blue Violet. Turns out it is Common Blue Violet. Not one of the millions, just one of the "thousands" of forms in this species. Thank you Harvey for not allowing me to exaggerate.


  1. I didn't know Sullivantia was in the Hocking Hills region of Ohio. I figured with all the sandstone this calcifile wouldn't be too happy. I see it down in Adams Co. along the limestone bluffs and cliffs in select areas. Never seen Phlox stolonifera, need to find that guy.

  2. Andy, Not sure on the Sullivantia, no one has verified it. The leaves don't seem to match any of the lobed Heuchera species, so we'll see what feedback I get.

    Creeping Phlox is throughout the HH area. A sure bet is the picnic area parking lot across from Ash Cave. They are common there.

  3. Those are Sullivantia leaves no doubt! It is recorded for Hocking county so I'm definitely not challenging its existence; just rather surprised it's there!

    Thanks for the Phlox location, I plan on heading out that way tomorrow!

  4. No problem Andy. Feedback is encouraged here. Did some more checking. It's there as well as Conkle's and Crane Hollow. Pat mentioned that there are other plants in the gorge that people are pleasantly surprised about too. Just makes the place even more exciting to hike. Good luck on the phlox.

  5. Have heard that there may also by Sullivatia at Clear Creek.

    Andy - next spring maybe you'll want to check out Wahkeena's Creeping Phlox. :)

  6. Hocking Hills Slide show

    I created a music slide show with my Puppy and gave a link to my blog.
    In my blog I will list some of the close places visitors might wanna visit or stay