Deep Woods, the Appalachian Gametophyte, and Ohio Geobotany

Hocking Hills

Plants That Favor Acidic Sandstone

Chestnut Oak (not pictured)

Young chestnut oaks are capable of reproducing from stump sprouts if cut or injured. Chestnut oaks in the Appalachians are trees that regrew from stump sprouts after being logged. Its acorns are also a valuable wildlife food for many animals. (


Sourwood is a very useful tree and it is the only species in the genus Oxydendrum! One interesting fact is that the honey made by bees from its flowers is highly prized and considered by many to surpass other honey. Lumber from the sourwood tree is used for tool handles and was once used to make sled runners. Hikers and mountain climbers can also make a thirst-quenching tea from its leaves. Early settlers chewed the bark to ameliorate mouth pain and brewed tea from its leaves to treat diarrhea, indigestion, and dysentery. (


Hemlock is an important food source for wild animals. Rabbits, deer, and squirrels like to eat bark, porcupines eat twigs, while birds prefer needles and seeds. Needles of the hemlock tree contain vitamin C and can be consumed in the form of tea. This tea was popular and often consumed by Iroquois Indians in the past. Native Americans also used the bark for weaving baskets. Dyes extracted from the trees were used for wool coloring, while Tannic acid extracted from the bark of the hemlock tree is used for tanning of leather. (

Trees Fighting Disease/Fungus

American Chestnut

American chestnut is the most susceptible species to chestnut blight, a fungus that was introduced to North America in the early 1900s. This fungus reduced the great American chestnut forest of the Appalachian Mountains to a simple sucker sprout population that rarely produces any nuts. One way to alleviate this issue is that they can be cured with mud packs applied to each canker, or protected with a biological control based on a virus that keeps the blight fungus from killing trees.


Butternut canker is an infection caused by a fungus that mainly attacks butternut trees. The fungus is considered to be an introduced disease to North America, but scientists are unaware of its origins. Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure for butternut canker. Trees with trunk cankers will most likely end up dying. If branch cankers are found early, removal of the affected branches can prevent the spread of the disease to other parts of the tree.

Eastern Hemlock (pictured above)

The hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae) is a serious threat to the eastern hemlock in Pennsylvania and across the United States. This non-native invasive insect has caused significant hemlock defoliation and mortality in Pennsylvania forests. One remedy for this is a simple treatment method that entails applying a systemic insecticide to the soil around the tree trunk base. The insecticide is then absorbed by tree roots and transported within the tree to the shoots and needles.

Appalachian Gametophyte

  • Among fern species with long-lived gametophytes, perhaps none is as peculiar as Vittaria appalachiana. As its name suggests, this temperate member of what is an almost exclusively tropical lineage inhabits the Appalachian Mountains and Plateau of the eastern United States, where it grows on porous rock outcrops, usually adjacent to water. Most distinctive, however, is the fact that this species exists exclusively as a vegetatively reproducing gametophyte. Vittaria appalachiana is one of only three ferns in which mature sporophytes have never been observed, as it reproduces asexually via gemmae.


  • Fern gemmae are differently sized than spores. Fern gemmae are quite large in comparison to spores and are generally considered too large for long-distance wind dispersal. Instead, gemmae are likely dispersed short distances by wind, water, or possibly animals (in bryophytes gemmae dispersal has been shown to be facilitated over short distances by slugs [Kimmerer and Young, 1995] and potentially by ants [Rudolphi, 2009]).


  • The notion of limited dispersal capability in V. appalachiana is also supported by the absence of this species north of the extent of the last glacial maximum, beyond which a transplant study has shown they are able to survive. The truncated range of this species in southern New York likewise indicates that the gametophytes lost their ability to produce mature, functioning sporophytes sometime before (or during) the last ice age.


  • The possibility that the current populations of the Appalachian gametophyte are being sustained by long-distance dispersal from some tropical sporophyte source can be rejected based on past allozyme studies, as well as the truncated range of V. appalachiana in the southern portion of New York. Additionally, the monophyly of V. appalachiana in the plastid analysis would seem to indicate that dispersal from the tropics occurred just once, although the situation is somewhat more complicated in our nuclear tree, where one V. appalachiana allele is resolved outside the larger V. appalachiana clade. Since the dispersal of gemmae does not appear to account for the wide range of V. appalachiana, it is most likely that a fully functioning sporophyte of this species existed in North America when temperatures were more favorable for tropical growth in the Appalachians.


Source:  Unraveling the origin of the Appalachian gametophyte, Vittaria appalachiana by Jerald B. Pinson and Eric Schuettpelz


Scavenger Hunt

Two Purple Flowering Plants: Giant Iron Weed & Smooth Aster

More Fun Plants!

Moss & Lichen

Reindeer Lichen

Haircap Moss

A plethora of ferns!

This is an example of the reproductive parts of a fern! Each of these small dots underneath the leaflets release spores.


Parasitic Plant

Pine Sap



Snakeskin Liverwort


Shining Clubmoss


Japanese Stiltgrass


Multiflora Rose