Prairie Oaks Metro Park

Prairie Oaks Metro Park is located in West Jefferson, Ohio, and has approximately 2,203 acres of prairie, wooded areas, and contains many trails. The park has an abundance of wildlife and a variety of plants for every botanist to explore. Native seeds were used to seed the park so that the prairies present today could represent prairies that have been in the area for thousands of years.

On my first trip to Prairie Oaks, I found a lot of Amur Honeysucker, Lonicera Maackii. I was not surprised by this because it is a fairly aggressive invasive species and can easily outcompete other plants. It has beautiful white and yellow flowers in the spring and berries in the late summer and early fall. In the picture here you can see the flowers.

Most of the trails that I explored on my first trip to the park were invaded heavily with honeysuckle. I was able to find a couple of other species that managed to survive through the infestation of honeysuckle. The first tree is an Osage-orange, Moraceae maclura. I identified this tree by its alternate, simple, and pinnately veined leaves. This tree has been naturalized in this area and its natural range is primarily in Texas. This tree is very unique in the fact that it has extremely rot-resistant wood. The area surrounding this sample was covered in honeysuckle so it was extremely difficult to get an image of the bark.

The next tree I found was bitternut hickory, I think. The bitternut hickory, Juglandaceae carya, has alternate, pinnately compound leaves with 7-10 leaflets. In the picture, you can see that the sample has all of those qualifications. An interesting fact about these trees is that their leaflitter adds calcium to the soil. The sample that I found was very young so bark identification would not be useful.

As I continued to walk the trails at Prairie Oaks Metro Park I began to notice the vines that were hanging on the trees. The first hanging vine I noticed was the Riverbank grape, Vitis riparia. I was able to identify this vine because of its serrated margins and the purple coloration of the vine. These vines can reach 50 feet long if under the right conditions!


I came across another grapevine that was very similar to the Riverbank grape but differed slightly in leaf shape and serration. I was able to identify this plant easily by its distinct heart-shaped leaf. There were also fruits starting to show on this grapevine. I identified this one as Summer Grape, Vitis aestivalis. I did not realize there were so many vining species of grape until I explored Prairie Oaks Metro Park.
Next, I moved onto looking at flowers within Prairie Oaks Metro Park. The first flower I came across was this purple low-lying flower known as Ground Ivy, Glechoma hederacea. I was able to identify this flower because of its distinct flower shape in combination with the leaf shape. This flower is in the mint family.
The final flower I found was this yellow flower which I was able to identify as a golden alexander,  Zizia aurea. The stems branching allowed me to identify this as a golden alexander rather than a meadow parsnip, Thaspium trifoliatum. Something I found interesting about this plant is that it is in the parsley family.
Finally, the dreaded poison ivy, Toxicodendron radicals, I managed to find it before it found me because of the saying “Leaves of three let it be”. I had seen some Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, but I did not get confused because it had a very distinct 5 leaves present.

Coefficient of  Conservationism (CC)

The coefficient of conservationism is an estimate of the degree to which the species is associated with high-quality natural community similar to what a community may have looked like before an area had been settled. On my trip to Prairie Oaks I looked for plants that had high coefficients of conservationism and low CC’s.

I came across a species that I am very familiar with, the Ohio Buckeye, Aesculus glabra. According to the Floristic Quality Assessment Index (FQAI) this plant has a CC of 6.

As I crossed over Darby Creek on the bridge I found a giant sycamore, Plantanus occidentalis. Sycamores are extremely easy to identify due to their shedding of bark causing the trunk to appear very light. The CC for sycamore is a 7.

A swamp white, Quercus bicolor, oak sits in the middle of the grass next to the parking lot as you first enter Prairie Oaks Metro Park. The CC for this species is a 7.

I had some difficulty coming across these higher-level CCs while walking on the trail. Much of the area is disturbed and consumed by Amur honeysuckle. To get further into the trees I would have to fight with the multiflora rose, Rosa multiflora, in order to travel to less disturbed areas of the forest.

This beautiful flower, the multiflora rose, has some pretty intense thorns attached.

While on many of the trails, I saw quaking aspen, Populus tremuloides. I was able to identify them by their almost triangular leaves and flattened petiole. This species has a CC of 2.

Virginia Creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, was scattered throughout the forest floor along the trails as well, the CC score for this vine is a 2.

Honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos, has a CC score of 4. The wicked thorns covering this tree are a dead give away to its identity.

I came across the red clover, Trifolium pratense in a prairie area. This plant has a CC of 0.


Interpretive Sign

One of the only interpretive signs that I was able to locate was placed next to the parking lot. This sign is informative but could have been a stand-alone sign. the information on the sign is extremely interesting and it was a quick read which I think is important for interpretive signs on trails. The sign was well organized and clean looking and contained a great photo of the prairie flowers.

Based on the sign above I wanted to include more pictures into my interpretive sign about Prairie Oaks. The sign above included information about only the prairies and did not include any information about the ecosystem as a whole. I found the entire ecosystem dynamic of the park very interesting so I wanted to create a sign that highlighted the park as a whole and how the prairies impact the tree species around it. Due to differences in the soil of prairie land and forestland, there will be different species on the edges of the prairie versus on the edges of the forest that is surrounded by water. This is what makes Prairie Oaks such a unique park for me and that is why my sign highlights the different ecosystems within the park boundaries.