A hike at Culberson Woods has been on my list for some time but the description as a “wet beech wood” was always a concern. In the Ohio Valley dry stretches are rare so it was always placed on the shelf. June 2022 had been dry and we were approximately 2 inches behind in monthly precipitation so we felt that the timing was right. In addition, we were hopeful of seeing the Purple Fringeless Orchid that had been identified there and it flowers in June.
The primary photographer was on the “injured reserve list” with a foot injury. Our daughter Caroline became the “stand-in” photographer.
The trail starts in a stereotypical rural Ohio scene, at a simple turnoff on a county lane flanked by fields of row crops. This is the last full sunshine that we will see for the next two hours.
From the trailhead the path is initially bordered by private properties, and via what appears to be an old farm drive, you arrive at the bulk of the preserve.
The deeply shaded woods to the left of the old drive, is part of the preserve, and hosts trees characteristic of a wetland: Red Maple, Pin Oak, Swamp White Oak, Sweet Gum and Willow. The size of the trees, with crowns over 70 feet above the floor, is impressive.
Once in the main body of the preserve, the defining characteristic was the maturity of the trees in the wood. There were large tree carcasses on the floor but also numerous thriving iconic trees.
June, July, and August are supposed to be the “dry” months here, but still the trail was wet, and in fact, sucked a laced shoe off the photographer.
A white clay base to the soil prevents precipitation from leaching away into the ground water system. In effect, the lowland functions as a clay bowl, retaining the fallen moisture.
My impression of the woods, as an amateur naturalist, was that it was extremely mature with iconic specimens of wetland species. We came across this downed specimen that typified that. It had fallen across the trail and had been chainsawed to reopen the trail. My rough estimation, based on growth ring count, has this tree at 150 years of age.
I saw no evidence of previous logging.
The straight branchless trunks of the large trees told me that they all developed in a forest, rather than have a forest develop around them. The competition for light in a forest causes straight boles and no retained lower branches. By comparison, old trees that originally lived in a farm field and then had other trees grow up around them, would have evidence of the lower branching of trees growing out in the open.
Red Maple – they love water and wet areas and these were by far the largest that I have ever seen of the species.”
American Beech – frequently found having vandalized carvings in their smooth bark but none of that was noted here.
One interesting finding that we saw two weeks in a row, were these “balls on a string” suspended from Spicebushes. They resemble an old fashioned “wrecking ball”, but on a minature scale, with the ball measuring only 2-3 millimeters. This is an egg casing for a Ray Spider.
Crayfish Mud Tower – these were quite numerous in this wetland, that for the most part was void of standing water.
Butterfly Chrysalis – the “stand in” photographer found this hanging from a woodland grass. I’m still trying to identify it to species. The moistness of the specimen suggests that it was just positioned. Somehow you hang a camera around your neck and then are able to capture the smallest findings along the trail.
Sedge Seed Head – sedges are the non-grass grass. Not officially a grass but similar in structure, but the flower heads and resulting seeds are very non-grass like.
Hollow Beeches – Beech trees are frequently hollow but I do not recall seeing one like this that you can see through. Branch loss on both sides of this tree led to decay and opened the viewing portal. If you look closely you can see neighboring trees through the branch stump in the center of the photo.
But when you look up the crown appears amazingly healthy.
That is because the life giving vascular tissue is just below the bark. What is missing in a hollow tree is the heartwood which provides strength to the structure. This tree would be more prone to damage or falling in a storm.
This hike was not without color. It was just presented in small servings.
A cluster of yellow mushrooms
Goldenseal – the yellow root of this plant was used for numerous ailments by both Native Americans and settlers of European descent. Over harvesting throughout the 19th century led to a decline in its population and Goldenseal is currently listed as a threatened species throughout its range. We saw two specimens on this trail.
Touch-Me-Not – Also known as Jewelweed. Named because the flower falls from the plant with the lightest touch. It is our native impatiens, and like impatiens in your garden, if you break the stem you will note that it is hollow and it oozes a lot of water. Impatiens is the genus name for the species and not a misspelled plural.
Moist and dark woods are ideal habitats for ferns, and multiple species were indeed seen at Culberson Woods.
In summary, Culberson Woods Nature Preserve is a unique hike. It was, in effect, an extensive wetland without standing water when we visited. Featured are tree species characteristic of lowlands and many specimens are massive. It appears pristine and may very well be “Old Growth”. While we did not see the Purple Fringeless Orchid, the hike was still rewarding.
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Photo credits to Caroline Burns.
Location – 46 miles from downtown Cincinnati in Clinton County, Ohio.
Parking – Graveled/grassed lot for 4+ cars.
Facilities – None.
Trail Conditions – Absolutely flat, largely dirt trail that reportedly is frequently moist/wet. Would be challenging after heavier rains. The trail is listed at 3 miles. You hike out and back to a loop trail and therefore there are no shortcuts.
Print Map Link – None. Take photo of map at the trailhead.
Benches – None
Kids – The main issue with kids would be the areas of muddy trails which are episodic. Otherwise kids 4 and over should do well. The distance may be an issue.
Dogs – Prohibited.
Suggested Paired Hikes – None