Hiker's Guide to the Trees, Shrubs,

and Woody Vines of Ricketts Glen State Park


Third Edition -- Internet Version



Introduction References Leaf Types Leaf Arrangements Leaf Edges Identification Key Descriptions Species List


Welcome to Ricketts Glen State Park! The Park provides many opportunities for the hiker and nature enthusiast to learn and appreciate the natural beauty of an area with unique biological and geological features. The Park is located in a transition zone, biologically and geologically speaking. Geologically, the Red Rock and North Mountains are part of the Allegheny Front, a boundary between the northern Allegheny Plateau and the southern Ridge and Valley region. Biologically, the Park is located in a zone between the Northern Hardwood Forest and the Southern Hardwood forest. The Northern Hardwood Forest is dominated by American Beech, Eastern Hemlock, and species of Birch and Maple, while the Southern Hardwood Forest is dominated by Oaks such as Chestnut Oak, Hickories, Tulip Tree, and formerly by the American Chestnut (reduced to a shrub by the Chestnut Blight). The transitional character of the Park makes it an interesting area in which even casual study will reap much enjoyment and satisfaction.

Ricketts Glen State Park provides over 20 miles of hiking trails, each with its own interesting characteristics. Although most hikers visit the Falls Trail, I would encourage you to try the other trails marked on the Recreational Guide for Ricketts Glen State Park, available at the Park Office. Reference is made to the trails by name in most of the descriptions. Note that the official trail map has Mt. Springs Road labeled as Fish Commission Road (eastern side of the Park). Here, I call that road Mt. Springs Lake Road.

I hope that this guide will help you to identify the woody plants you see along the hiking trails, and perhaps stimulate you to learn more about the ecology and evolution of plants as you consult more technical references. The guide uses characteristics of the leaves as they appear in the summer, however distinctive features of the bark, flowers or fruits are mentioned in the descriptions.

Specimens of nonnative species were either planted or escaped from cultivation: Multiflora Rose, Western Larch, Scots Pine, and possibly Red Pine. Also, several species are uncommon or unusual. The single specimen of Cucumber Magnolia is east of its published range. Minniebush is a species seldom encountered in our woods. Also, although locally common in Pennsylvania, Sweet Fern is rare in New York State.

Several groups of species pose identification problems for both naturalists and professional biologists: the Chokeberries, Oaks, Hawthorns, and Blueberries. All in all, the Park harbors an interesting and beautiful diversity of species.

How to Use this Guide

In order to effectively use this guide, you will need to learn a few basic characteristics of woody plants. What is a woody plant? Obviously trees are woody, but the term includes shrubs and vines with a usually darkened and stiff stem. The term woody is the opposite of herbaceous. This guide does not deal with herbaceous plants (herbs, grasses, wildflowers, etc.). The difference between trees and shrubs lies in the fact that trees become tall, and are usually composed of one or less commonly, two or three stems. Shrubs are usually less than 15 ft tall, and are composed of several to numerous stems.

The descriptions and illustrations of the woody plants are grouped by growth form and leaf type. Use the key on p. 7 to find the group to which your plant belongs. First, decide whether the plant is a vine (does it climb on other plants?), a ground cover (creeping low to the ground), a tree with needle leaves (conifers or “pine” trees), or a tree or shrub with broad leaves. If your plant is a tree or shrub with broad leaves, than decide whether the leaves are opposite or alternate, and simple or compound. If they are alternate and simple, then decide whether the edges of the leaves are entire, lobed, wavy, single‑ or double‑toothed (larger teeth are finely toothed).

The descriptions include typical maximum height of the plant, and the length of the leaves. If distinctive, characteristics of the bark, flowers, fruits, or twigs will also be mentioned. Finally, distinctive aspects of the biology of the plant as well as notes on the occurrence of the species in the Park are listed.

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Updated 18 June 2005.