Wahkeena Vacation

Fri., Oct. 15, 2021

By Ethan Johnson, Plant Records Curator

On Wednesday October 5th, Jing Wang and I made a trip to Wahkeena Nature Preserve, named with a Yakima Indian word meaning “most beautiful”, located on the edge of the Hocking Hills. Rhododendron Collections Manager, Connor Ryan arranged for Jing to collect seed of flame azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum. I took a vacation day. We left our home in Willoughby at 6:30 AM and arrived at Wahkeena at 9:45 AM. Site Manager Tom Shisler was blowing off the leaves from the paved surfaces when Jing and I arrived but took the time to point out a mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia located between the exit drive and the pond that had an abundance of seed pods. This plant was all by itself in an area that had been planted with exotics such as Forsythia, but there were plenty of natives as well including white oak, (Quercus alba), poison ivy (Rhus toxicodendron), arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum recognitum), mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), Canada hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), serviceberry (Amelanchier), and greenbrier (Smilax rotundifolia).

Jing Wang and Quercus montana

Dawes Arboretum Staff then arrived led by Greg Payton, Director of Living Collections who had obtained a permit to collect from David Dyer, Curator, Natural History, Ohio History Connection that we “piggy backed” on given the approval of our guide, Tom Shisler. Also present from the Dawes were Bridget Reed, Nursery Manager; and Jessica Wong, Plant Records Coordinator, and from Wahkeena Nature Preserve Nora Steele, Visual Arts Educator who joined us bringing up the rear.

As we first entered the woods there was Catawba rhododendron planted near a spring with rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum) growing nearby. Greg Payton did not want the seed from those rosebay rhododendrons citing a chance of cross-pollination although Tom was skeptical given their differing bloom times. By the path was a caged (from deer) orchid named oval ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes ovalis) that had recently finished blooming. We walked uphill and along a large outcrop of Black Hand Sandstone that had netted chain fern (Woodwardia aureolata) at its base and a curiously large lichen named smooth rock tripe attached to the rock face that occasionally flaked off. We proceeded through a narrow gap in the outcrop up to a forest with many chestnut oaks (Quercus montana), and a few American beech (Fagus grandifolia). On this high ground was sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) that was ailing and virtually devoid of seed, and numerous smaller plants including an orchid named downy rattlesnake plantain (Goodyera pubescens), creeping wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), and striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata). It was here that we also saw a box turtle.

Box turtle at Wahkeena Nature Preserve, Sugar Grove, Fairfield County, OH

Tom led us down the other side of the slope which was steep, occasionally clearing fallen branches or a rosebay rhododendron that had slid off the rock face. Greg, Bridget, and Jessica got busy collecting seed from multiple plants and a couple of voucher specimens of rosebay rhododendron explaining that their plan was to make a mass planting that is to eventually function as a visual screen at Dawes. Also growing on the rock face was smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), walking fern (Asplenium rhizohyllum), and maidenhair spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes). Trees included sweet birch, named for its pleasant wintergreen scent (Betula lenta), sourwood, red maple (Acer rubrum), and chestnut oak.

We climbed back over the outcrop and into a forest that also had tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) that appeared to be about 140 feet tall. As we came out of the woods Tom fetched us bottles of non-alcoholic “birch beer” made with sweet birch, prompting Greg and me to make cash donations to the collections box. The house cat named squirrel then accompanied us to see another orchid named autumn coral root (Corallorhiza odontorhiza), and to collect flame azalea (Rhododendron calendulaceum) on the ledge by the house on the preserve that Tom lives in. There was a native sweet birch in his front yard that we collected seed from as well.

Bridget Reed at Wahkeena Nature Preserve with cat named Squirrel.

We said our goodbyes to Tom. Greg, Bridget, and Jessica went off to have lunch while Jing and I ate the food we brought in the car. Nora came by once again and gifted us seed collecting bags that bore her art – an owl for Jing and a nuthatch for me. We were thoroughly charmed by the people, inviting them to Holden, and by the Wahkeena Nature Preserve.

Seed collected on this trip may be grown on for Holden’s living collection or offered via the international seed exchange among botanical gardens and arboreta.

Cypripedium acaule- pink lady slipper orchid.
Greg Payton, Bridget Reed, Jessica Wong, and Jing Wang

Ethan Johnson

Ethan Johnson

Plant Records Curator

I am a Cleveland, Ohio native who was brought to the Holden Arboretum at an early age. I remember when the Cleveland Botanical Garden (then Garden Center of Greater Cleveland) was built on its current site. Made maps of the Gwinn Estate in Bratenahl as a child and became interested in plant identification in Storrs, CT where my family moved in 1972. Served as an Intern then Gardener at the arboretum in 1981 - 1982. Worked for the Arnold Arboretum in plant records 1985 - 1989. After returning to the arboretum in 1989 with Peter Bristol as my supervisor, I became a member of the Garden Center of Greater Cleveland, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the American Public Gardens Association, the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association, the International Dendrological Research Institute, and American Conifer Society. Peter Bristol left in 2001, then Charles Tubesing was my supervisor until 2020, and now I report to Caroline Tait.


Media Kit

Logos, images, B-roll footage and brand guidelines.

View kit

What can we help you find?

Return to site

Help us all thrive. Make a donation TOMORROW: 20211207 00:00 | 1638835200

Debug info for popularity tracking: Disable within popularity-tracking.php file once ready.

Time: 1638748800 / Saved: 1638748800

Views (7 day(s) ago): 1

Views (6 day(s) ago): 1

Views (5 day(s) ago): 1

Views (4 day(s) ago): 2

Views (3 day(s) ago): 2

Views (2 day(s) ago): 2

Views (1 day(s) ago): 2

Views (Today): 2