In mid-May an ecologist friend mentioned a steep eroding hillside with a sparsely wooded bluff in the vicinity of Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park that he said had some interesting plants growing on it. The directions were a bit tricky (Siri had never heard of “Darbydale” even though it’s in Darbydale), but the view was worth it. A steeply eroding bluff!

Steeply eroding bluff at Darbydale, Franklin County, Ohio.


Here’s the Google Earth satellite view, which shows the bluff plainly.


I parked on London Groveport Road and walked northwest until about where the road bends due west, and then headed up to the bluff through a second-growth (or third, or  fourth, or …)-growth woodland dominated by sugar maple (Acer saccharum), passing some wildflowers in the way.

The bluff is thin soil, and apparently subject to drying. Vegetation is thin, and includes some interesting prairie glade species. Yellow star-grass, Hypoxis hirsuta is a typical showy monocot with narrow parallel-veined leaves and 3 sepals and 3 petals that all look petal-like (and so are called “tepals”). Formerly in the Liliaceae, yellow star-grass is now placed in the Hypoxidaceae.

Yellow star-grass, Hypoxis hirsuta, is a typical showy monocot.


Krigia biflora is a lovely native member of the Asteraceae. Its common name is “two-flowered Cynthia,” (you know they aren’t flowers, but are inflorescences). This is one of the Asteraceae that has a ligulate capitulum –only strap=shaped flowers, and they are perfect (with both a pistil and stamens).

Two flowered Cynthia, Krigia biflora, has a ligulate capitulum.

The dry bluff has little holes in the ground with bees coming and going. The bees are a nearly honeybee -sized member of the the family Colletidae called the “unequal cellophane bee,” Colletes inaequalis, which nests in underground burrows lined with a cellophane-like material that it produces and secretes.

The unequal cellophane bee, Colletes inaequalis, nests in the ground.


Here’s a video of a bee entering a burrow, later joined by another …but they are not social and do not share nests. This seems to be a mistake!


A distinctive violet is flowering. This is Viola sagittata, the arrow-leaved violet. In spring, violet flowers are colorful and conspicuous, with large-petaled zygomorphic flowers. Later in the season, when they seem to have finished flowering, many species produce inconspicuous flowers that are “cleistogamous” (a word meaning “hidden marriage”) flowers that don’t ever open to reveal any colorful parts, but that self-pollinate without ever opening. They look like flower buds, but they are in fact flowers.

Arrow-leaved violet, Viola sagittata

The edge of the bluff is also home to a rather rare herb, Seneca snakeroot, Polygala senega. This plant looks superficially like a smartweed, but a close view shows that is has asymmetrical flowers with large petal-like sepals. The plant has been used medicinally in various ways, including, as the common name attets, a snakebite remedy by members of the native American Seneca Nation.

Seneca snakeroot, Polygala senega,
is a perennial wildflower of dry open calcareous sites.

There are several native spring-flowering members of the Apiaceae at this site, clearly recognizable as to family by the presentation of small epigynous flower in compound umbels, coupled with compound leaves with bases that wrap around the stem. Yellow pimpernal, Taenidia integerrima, is one of them, a standout by virtue of its very diffuse compound umbels and wide entire (not toothed) leaflets.

Yellow pimpernal, Taenidia integerrima. is a member of the parsely family, Apiaceae.

“MADCAPHORSE” is a memory clue for woody plants with opposite leaves. Maple Ash Dogwood, Caprifoliaceae, and horse-chestnut (buckeye). Members of the Caprifoliaceae are mostly shrubs, and the most prevalent genus in terms of number of species in Ohio is Viburnum. In contrast to honeysuckles (genus Lonicera), which have entire leaves and large flowers paired in the leaf axils, viburnums have serrate leaves and small flowers borne in flat-topped compound cymes. This is black haw, Viburnum prunifolium.

Black haw, Viburnum prunifolium, is a typical member of the Caprifoliaceae.

A week and a half later the black haw is beginning to set fruit. The fruits are drupes –a common fruit type that has a single seed covered by a bony endocarp, and having a somewhat fleshy outer layer. (Don’t confuse a drupe with a berry, which is fleshy throughout, lacking the drupe’s “stone” in the center.)

Black haw fruits are druoes.

There are some interesting mosses and lichens on the bluff. One of them is Ohio haircap moss, Polytrichastrum ohioense, and this is a nice time of the year to see it because now is when you get to see that the hair cap –the cone-like protective calyptra that covers the developing sporophyte –is composed of many hairs.

Ohio haircap moss, so-named because of the hairy calyptra.

Who doesn’t love crustose lichens growing on pebbles in the sun? This is Protoblastenia rupestris.

Protoblastenia rupestris is a crustose lichen with round red apothecia.


The woods one passes through to get to the bluff are nice –not too many invasives, although the sugar maple dominance is a little monotonous. There are some lovely wildflowers, including this may-apple, Podophyllum peltatum. The plant is a wee bit mis-named, as the “apple” (which is a berry, not a pome) doesn’t appear until June, and ripen until July. The flowers are what we see in May. The plant is quite poisonous to eat except perhaps, in small amounts, the wholly ripe (not unripe) fruit.

When this photo was being taken I set down my tripod, and then walked of without it. I’ve reutened to the site 3 times since and walked all over the place searching for it, to no avail. Sigh.

Curse you, may-apple. You stole my tripod!