Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
One of the acidophiles we came across during our trip was sourwood or Oxydendrum arboreum. While I do not recommend going around nibbling random plants, if you get the chance to taste this plant, you will notice its distinct sour flavor. The taste was similar to something that would be found in sour candy and it reminded me of a sour airhead. While the tree is often used as an ornmanetal tree, the nector can be used to make honey and jelly!
Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
Another acidophile we came across was the Eastern Hemlock. While these trees have flat needles, the author of our Peterson’s Field Guide strongly feels that these trees are not suited for being used as Christmas trees due to the needles falling once dried. While in the past, Native Americans and settlers used the leaves to make tea, it is not used as much for medicinal purposes. Currently, the wood is used for lumber, pulpwood, and pallets.
Rock Cap Fern (Polypodium virginianum)
Lastly, we found a Rock Cap Fern growing on a rock. How appropriate! Multiple types of animals use this fern as a food source during the extreme winter such as ruffled grouse, white-tailed deer (the state animal of Ohio!), and the wild turkey.
Biotic Threats to Forest Health
American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)
The American Chestnut is currently under attack by a pathogen known as Cryphonectria parasitic. This is a parasitic fungus that has destroyed a large portion of American Chestnuts. The fungus grows in the bark of the tree and spreads to harm the branches and leaves of the tree, eventually leading to the tree’s death. In the word’s of Dr. Klips, boo hiss grr!
While cross breeding with the Chinese Chestnut is a potential solution being explored, there has been little to no success. Another management technique being used is quarantine. Much like diseases we see in humans, Oregon has a quarantine policy in place for all chestnuts from eastern states. This has seen some success as the state has not reported the disease since 1934.
Butternut Tree (Juglans cinerea)
Since its first documented case in 1967, the butternut tree has been under attack by a fungal disease known as butternut canker. This disease is so prevalent that in some states, it has killed up to 80% of the butternut population. These cankers tend to be the most noticeable when looking at the tree’s branches and trunk. While the cankers can form in other areas of the tree, these trunk cankers are what eventually kill the tree. While there isn’t much currently available to outright prevent butternut canker, with proper watering and fertilizing, the development of cankers can be slowed due to the vigorous growth.
Vittaria appalachiana, known as the Appalachian gametophyte, reproduces asexually via gemmae. This sets it apart from many different ferns. Fern gemmae are typically 0.2-1.0 mm in length, which are quite large when compared to spores. Due to their large size, this makes long-distance wind dispersal much more difficult. So, it is believed that gemmae are dispersed in shorter distances via water, wind, and animals. According to and article written by Kimmerer and Young in 1995, byrophyte gemmae have been shown to disperse with the help of slugs. The idea that the V. appalachianais dispersed over short distances is supported by the observation of the specie’s absence north of the last glacial maximum, even though it has been seen that they can survive in this area. This suggests that the plant’s gametophytes lost the ability to produce functioning sporophytes before or during the last ice age. Based on previous allozyme studies, the possibility of current Appalachian gametophyte populations being sustained by long-distance dispersal from some tropical sporophyte source has been rejected. The current population is most likely due to an ancesetor of the Appalachian gametophyte that had functioning and mature sporophytes that were capable to long-distance dispersal that went extinct during or before the last ice age.
Source: “Unraveling the Origin of the Appalachian Gametophyte” (Pinson and Shuettpelz, 2016)
Miscellaneous Other Observations
During our trip, it was my goal to find two parasitic plants. When parasites come to mind, most think of insects so it is interesting to see what plants are out there doing the same thing!
Cancer Root (Conopholis americana)
Cancer root, which has some questionable names, is a fully parasitic plant. It grows attached to the roots to oak. Interestingly, this plant does not have corophyll. Due to the absence of chlorophyll, the plant itself is not green. Although cancer is in the name, there is not any evidence that it either prevents or causes cancer. It is believed that the name originates from the way the plant grows on the host, similar to cancers. However, historically, it has been used to treat tuberculosis by Native Americans, but it is unknown whether the treatment was effective or not.
Beechdrops (Epifagus americana)
The beechdrop are another plant that lacks corophyll so they turn towards beech trees to parasitize. The beechdrops insert their root-like structures into the root of a beech tree. They then draw out nutrition to sustain themselves. While this may sound harmful to the host tree, the beechdrop has a short life span. So, the tree doesn’t experience long term damage. Historians believe that Native Americans used beechdrops to brew a bitter tea. This tea was then used to treat a variety of ailments such as mouth sores, diarrhea, and dystentery. However, it is not advised to use these plants now.