Ohio Hanging Rock’s Natural History

Ohio Hanging Rock’s upper elevations and ridgetops are dominated by trees adapted to dry conditions: pignut and mockernut hickories; and white, red, black, and chestnut oaks. The ravines and mid-slopes bear red and sugar maples, yellow buckeye, black birch, red oak, tulip poplar, beech, black gum, and bitternut hickory. Frederick Creek, Ohio Hanging Rock’s main waterway is bordered with a  southern floodplain forest of yellow buckeye, boxelder, green ash, black walnut, white walnut, and sycamore. Along Ohio Hanging Rock’s larger drainages, the great beds of clay for spring wetlands in the valley bottoms, from which spring peepers, pickerel frogs, and chorus frogs resound in early spring.

Intact Forest Biodiversity

Most forests in Ohio have lost much of their tree and understory diversity during the last two centuries of human activities. Many modern woodlands are dominated by trees that reclaimed once-cleared ground through wind-dispersed seeds, seeds that have had the ability to travel relatively long distances. In forests which have agricultural histories, it is often maples, ash, and tulip poplar that dominate the forest assemblage. Ohio Hanging Rock is note-worthy in that, although a fairly young forest, it has an a remarkably balanced representation of the same tree species that it probably had in pre-settlement time, including an abundance of oaks and hickories.

Signature Deep Forest Birds

During a late April foray to Ohio Hanging Rock in 2015, staff and board members were almost never out of earshot from the territorial buzz of a male Worm Eating Warbler. In large blocks of forests, it is not unusual to hear one or two territorial males during an afternoon’s trek, but on this particular trip we heard dozens. The Worm-Eating Warbler is a “poster child” bird for healthy large Eastern hardwood forest blocks—especially those forests bearing steep slopes and possessing a well-established shrub zone. Worm Eating Warblers are heavily preyed upon by cowbirds and they seek out only the largest and least fragmented forests in order to maximize their reproductive success. We considered the Worm Eating Warblers’ obvious high “approval rating for Ohio Hanging Rock a positive assessment from an expert source.

Rare Plants & Rare Bats

Botanical studies conducted on the property have revealed several rare plants, including Butternut, Northern Rose Shell Azalea, Pink Lady Slipper, and Cornel Leaved aster; also four state-listed species: Feather-bells, Strenantheium gramineum, Yellow Crown-beard, Verbesina occidentalis, Southern Red Oak, Quercus falcate and Small-flowered Alum-root, Heuchera parviflora. Significantly, two federally endangered bat species were documented feeding on the tract: the Indiana Bat and Northern Long Eared.

Outstanding Geologic Beauty

Ohio Hanging Rock has spectacular rock formations. In upper elevations a bed of sandstone juts out high above the step ravines. The bedrock has weathered into a sentinel of massive boulders of varying large sizes. covered with lichens and ferns. At their bases grow luxurious cinnamon ferns while heir azaleas and mountain laurels wreath the upper slopes. Prior to the continental glaciations, the Great Teays River, the precursor of the Mississippi River, wound north through Ohio, through Minford, and past the Ohio Hanging Rock Preserve. When the glaciers blocked the great river, a lake formed nearly as large as Lake Erie and lasted for over 6,000 years. The clay that built up in the lake’s bottom, known today as Minford clay, is likely the source of the preserve’s rich deposits. Today the abundant clay in the region creates low elevation wetlands, and the preserve resounds seasonally with the calls of spring peepers, eastern gray tree frogs, and leopard frogs.

Rich colonies of ferns cover the steep slopes at Ohio Hanging Rock
Large populations of Worm Eating Warblers are indicators of healthy large Eastern Forest Blocks, and are found in great numbers at Ohio Hanging Rock
Star Chickweed is one of the many wildflowers found in abundance at Ohio Hanging Rock.
Eastern Red Spotted Newts are found at Ohio Hanging Rock. This photo shows one such newt in its juvenile, terrestrial "eft" phase.