Botany Along the Ohio-Erie Trail


A Key to Common Wildflowers in September
John E. Silvius, Professor of Biology

Thankfully, the Ohio to Erie Trail stretching from Xenia through Cedarville to South Charleston, Ohio is graced with many beautiful wildflowers.  Some are remnants of the pre-settlement days when Greene County was covered with both forest and prairie lands.  Most of the photos accessable from the links below were taken along the bikeway between Xenia and South Charleston, OH.   Between Cedarville and South Charleston, a long segment of the bikeway is located adjacent to U.S. Route 42.  Between the highway and the bikeway, a narrow strip of unplowed land exists which has been a refuge for prairie species which have been largely driven from surrounding agricultural land.   The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) of Greene and Clark Counties have been kind enough to erect "Do Not Mow or Spray" signs and are cooperating in a mowing program that avoids the summer months when prairie grasses and forbs are actively growing and storing reserves for winter and the next growing season.   To learn more, you have two choices as shown below:

1.  Visit our remnant prairie plant page to view some of the more rare prairie plant species that are being protected through cooperation between the Greene Co. and Clark Co. Park Districts, the ODOT, the Dayton Power and Light Company, and adjacent landowners.

2.  Use the Wildflower Key below to Get Acquainted with Common Wildflowers -- Stop along the way, being careful of passing cyclists, identify and enjoy their beauty, and then leave them for others to enjoy.  More serious "biking botanists" may wish to obtain a wildflower guide at a library or bookstore.

To Use This Guide:

Observe the plant, then decide which of the following categories your plant represents. Go to the appropriate "Key" as directed:

I. Wildflower -- Includes species with colorful flowers. They are not woody like
                        trees or shrubs.
                        Go to "Wildflower Key" below:

II. Grasses -- Includes species with grass-like leaves, topped with many tiny
                    flowers arranged in delicate sprays.
                    Go to "Grass Key" below:
"Wildflower Key"

A.   Flowers White or Whitish:

         1.   Flowers Large -- ½ inch or more in length or diameter; petals can be easily counted.
              Bouncing Bet (Saponaria officinalis) 1    If flowers are not so, go to "2." below.

        2.    Flowers Small - less than ½ inch; hard to count petals
                a. Flowers in flat lacy heads -- Queen Anne's Lace; Wild Carrot (Daucus carota)

                b. Flowers numerous, in a flattened cluster as if the plants are covered with snow;
                    consider the following choices
                 Leaves egg shaped (oval) - White Snakeroot, (Ageratina altissima or Eupatorium rugosum) 1;
                   prefers shaded upland sites
                 Leaves narrow, tapering at both ends - Tall Boneset, (Eupatorium altissimum);
                    prefers sunny upland sites
                 Leaves wide, pierced by the stem - Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum); moist sites
                    (e.g. just E of Rt. 35)

 B.     Flowers Green, Arranged in Pointy, Finger-Like 'Spikes':

            1. Plants tall (3 to 15 ft); leaves divided into 3 lobes - Giant Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida)

            2. Plants short (< 3 ft), finely divided leaves - Common Ragweed, (Ambrosia
                artimesiifolia)     Note: Ragweeds are the chief cause of pollen allergies in late summer,
                not goldenrods.

C.     Flowers Orange or Yellow:

             1. Flowers sunflower-like -- a central disk or knob composed of many tiny flowers
                                                        surrounded by a circle of "rays" which appear to be petals
                                                        but are each flowers with an elongated "petal-like" corolla
                a.  Rays drooping downward away from disk (center):
                     Disk made of loosely arranged flowers; wings or ridges run down stem -- Wingstem(Actinomeris alternifolia)
                     Disk cone-shaped; rays yellowish; leaves large, divided into leaflets --Tall Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)
                     Disk an elongated, gray or brown knob, anise-scented  -- Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)
                b.  Rays not drooping downward away from disk (center):
                     Both disk (center) and rays are yellow or orange; opposite leaves -- Sunflowers (Helianthus) 3
                     Disk (center) is much darker (blackish-brown) than rays -- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)
                     Flowers on tall, leafless stalks; large basal leaves -- Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum)

            2. Flowers dangling, slipper-like, tapering to a slender spur:
                Flowers Orange -- Spotted Touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis) 3
                Flowers Yellow -- Pale Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens palida) 3

            3. Flowers with four petals, opening at twilight; conspicuous pods (fruits)
                -- Evening Primrose (Oenothera sp.)

            4. Numerous Tiny Flowers forming several branching clusters; prominent in September
                landscape -- Goldenrods (Solidago) 4

D.     Flowers Violet or Purple, numerous, forming a flattened cluster; plants tall,
            common in pastures - Ironweed (Vernonia sp.)

E.     Flowers Blue:
      1. Sunflower-like heads and toothed, blue rays; borne on leafless stems; close up in the heat
                of the day -Chicory (Cicorium intybus) 5

           2. Flowers star-shaped, arranged on tall spikes; prefers shady areas: Tall Bellflower
            (Campanula americana) --  Habitat view    and  Close-up View

           3. Flowers tubular, snapdragon-like, with stripes beneath, in moist areas - Great Lobelia
              (Lobelia siphilitica)

F.    No Flowers:  Bamboo-like stems, <½ inch diameter, damp, sandy areas
           (e.g. between Bicket Rd. and U.S. 35.) - Scouring Rush - Equisetum hyemale) 6
"Grass Key"

Grasses are a prominent and beautiful part of the Autumn bike trail landscape. Their flowers are born in tight, wheat-like spikes or racemes, or in delicate open-branched arrangements called panicles. Two beautiful grasses are Big Bluestem, a key member of the tallgrass prairie; and, Indian Grass. Both species can be found in Greene Co. as a remnant of the original prairie landscape which occupied parts of southwest Ohio. Because railroad right-of-ways were not plowed, but did experience occasional fires, these species found refuge from the plow which eliminated their kind in adjacent farm fields. Agricultural "weed grasses" are also present along the trail-- e.g Foxtail (Setaria). Use the following key to get acquainted:

A.     Flowers in a Wheat-Like Head; many bristles  - Foxtail (Setaria)

B.     Flowers in open "panicles":

           1. Reddish gold colored panicles; "rabbit-ears" visible where leaf blade joins the stem -
            Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans)7

            2. Dark purple panicles, oily to the touch - Redtop, Purpletop (Triodia flava)

C.    Flowers in 3-part racemes resembling a turkey foot; growing in bunches
                -- Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) 7
1Footnotes, Ideas for Further Study"

The footnotes below are matched with some of the plant names above:

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Dedicated to Harold and Shirley Strobridge, who have both inspired us to appreciate the beauty of the Creation in Greene County, Ohio. (9-1-98)