Reducing Stormwater Runoff for a Healthier Watershed

This is a section of a five-part series produced by FLOW to educate residents about backyard conservation.  

Seemingly inconspicuous, stormwater runoff is one of the biggest threats facing waterways. Accounting for an estimated 70% of all water pollution, stormwater runoff is rain or snow that, rather than soaking into the ground, runs off paved areas and bare soil into our waterways, picking up pollutants on its way and never being treated. As our world continues to develop and as we continue to replace nature with concrete (with our own watershed gaining over 200,000 people in the next thirty years), this problem will only become more daunting. Moreover, extreme weather and a wetter midwest are in our future due to climate change. By altering your backyard practices, you can help combat stormwater runoff and maybe even save on your water bill. logo


Impervious surfaces such as roofs, driveways, parking lots, and sidewalks exacerbate the problem of stormwater runoff by not allowing water to soak into the soil at all. This facilitates the collection of pollutants and quickens the pace that waterways are flooded. To reach only 12% impervious surface coverage, as recommended for good water quality by the Center for Watershed Protection, the Olentangy Watershed needs to disconnect 10,068 acres of pavement according to Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District. One way to do this is by transforming over-paved places by simply removing the pavement. For more information, visit Impervious surfaces can be replaced with gravel, wood chips, or other surfaces that allow water to penetrate the earth. 

You don’t have to dig up your driveway to reduce the effects of pavement. Simpler measures can make a big impact, too. 

 Rain Barrel attached to gutters

Photo Credit: 2008 FLOW Backyard Conservation Booklet

Working from the top down, we first must deal with our roofs. Municipal and residential roofs are another source of stormwater runoff. This runoff can be managed to prevent overflowing sewers and backups in our basements. Keeping clear gutters and installing gutter shields prevent debris from blocking water flow and can keep your gutters in better shape. Directing your downspouts to your lawn or garden at least 6’ away from the foundation of your house gives the water a better chance of being absorbed and you a better chance of not wading through a flooded basement. A splash block at the end of the downspout can help distribute the water even more. Rather than letting water flow out a downspout, it can be collected in a rain barrel. Rain barrels are an easy way to conserve and recycle water. The barrel is placed under a downspout and collects water to be used in your lawn or garden. Check the instructions that come with your barrel for more specific information and tips. 

Rain garden near parking lot.

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force

Impervious surfaces are not the only cause of stormwater runoff. Soil becomes saturated quickly without strong root systems, causing water to runoff. By planting native plants and trees adapted to the local water conditions, more water is soaked up or less water is needed and thus added to your bill. To increase the absorption potential of your yard even more, consider adding a rain garden. Rain gardens are not a water garden or wetland, but rather a garden in a shallow bed to hold and soak up runoff. Rain gardens can remove up to 90% of nutrients and chemicals from runoff and are more effective than typical gardens at soaking up water. You can plant a rain garden in a depression where rain normally pools, or call 811 before digging a new bed. Rain gardens differ from typical gardens by using soil that increases water infiltration and water-loving plants. For more details on planting a rain garden, check out Just as depressions can be transformed into rain gardens, sloped areas and hills can be terraced. Sloped areas allow water to pick up erosion and flow quickly, causing sediment to end up in our waterways, where they block sunlight and worsen water quality. Terraces prevent erosion by creating level steps where you can plant mini-gardens. For more details on making terraces, check out the USDA’s online instructions

Terrace with planting at the side of a house.

Photo Credit:

However you alter your backyard, whether that means planting a meadow or just a few more native plants, your choices can make a big positive impact on the issue of stormwater runoff. For more information on stormwater management and backyard conservation, you can consult FLOW’s website, tips from the EPA and the National Wildlife Federation, or you can hire a local landscaping agency. 


Composting for a Healthier Watershed

This is a section of a five-part series produced by FLOW to educate residents about backyard conservation.

A handful of humus.The farm-to-table food stream often ends up flowing to a landfill. 40% of food in the United States is never eaten. In 2010, $161 billion worth of food was wasted either by consumers or at the retail level. However, there are ways to mitigate this problem. To reduce your waste stream by up to 35% and thus reduce methane emissions from landfills, all you need to do is compost. With a reputation of being smelly and gross, composting actually can be rather simple, clean, and great for your garden when done right. Composting yard waste also prevents it from ending up in landfills or in our waterways where it reduces the oxygen in our water. Composting has huge impacts on the environment and is a secret weapon in growing beautiful gardens. 

All matter decomposes; composting just speeds up the process. The final result is a dense, dark, earthy soil called humus that can be used as a fertilizer to improve the soil quality in your garden. To quicken the journey from kitchen scraps and leaves to humus, compost needs four elements: nitrogen, carbon, moisture, and oxygen. Nitrogen comes from green materials like grass clippings and food scraps. However, if your compost lacks nitrogen, you can simply add a handful of general lawn fertilizer. Carbon is added to compost through brown materials like leaves and twigs. Rain or, if need be, sprinkling your compost with water adds moisture. Finally, oxygen comes from turning your compost or adding holes or gaps to the side of your compost bin. How these four elements come together can vary in different forms of composting. 

Composting can be as simple or as involved as you would like it to be depending on how much of a hurry you are in to use your compost. The simplest but slowest form is cold composting – simply collecting your yard waste and kitchen scraps in a pile or a bin. Cold composting requires less effort and time, but it takes longer to decompose and form usable humus. To prevent attracting pests or a pungent smell, bury your kitchen scraps in your compost pile. Diseased plants and weeds should not be composted if using this method because the temperatures are not high enough to kill them. In general, meat, pet waste, dairy products, oils, or yard trimmings that have been treated with pesticides should NOT be composted. 

Three compost bins of different styles

Photo by Kristen Malec

Hot composting demands more time and effort, but has faster results and can create usable humus in under a month. For the foundation of your compost, you can build a bin as simple as a trash can with holes for aeration or an enclosure made of wire mesh. Alternatively, you can buy a compost bin or not have a bin at all but rather a foundational layer of brick or prunings for air circulation. With your foundation in place, you can layer 2” to 4” of equal parts carbon and nitrogen materials or mix them together. Some composters like to add a few shovel-fulls of soil to get their compost started. With a minimum of a 3’ x 3’ x 3’ cube, your compost will begin to heat up, reaching temperatures of 110℉ to 160℉. When the compost begins to cool, you can begin to turn your compost, moving the compost from the center to the outside of the pile. If turned near-daily, your compost should be ready in under four weeks. If turned every other week, you should have compost in one to three months. 

These are the two main methods, but composting comes in all shapes and sizes. To compost without a backyard or in smaller spaces, vermicomposting is the solution. Vermicomposting uses worms to compost. For more information on vermicomposting, check out the EPA’s online instructions. 

The Compost Exchange Logo


Composting can take place beyond the backyard. Nearly 100 cities have made the switch to collect resident’s compost along with recycling and trash. There are also organizations that pickup residents’ compost, such as the Compost Exchange in Columbus. While it is still rare for cities to collect residents’ compost, many cities compost yard waste and bio-solids from waste treatment facilities. Columbus has been producing this type of compost called Com-Til for over twenty-five years. 

However your compost came to be, it is a sure way to make your own backyard more eco-friendly. And as a bonus, you can use your fertilizer in your garden and lawn. Be sure to check your local regulations on composting before getting started. For more information on composting, you can consult the Ohio EPA, the USDA’s Tip Sheet, or even FLOW’s very own backyard conservation booklet. Happy composting! 


Lawn Care for a Healthier Watershed

This is a section of a five-part series produced by FLOW to educate residents about backyard conservation.

Example backyard with native plants and gardens rather than lawn.

Photo by Smadar Sonya Strauss

Lawn is pervasive in the American landscape. There are an estimated 40 million acres of lawns across the country, making “lawn” the largest irrigated crop in America. Our lawns use 7 billion gallons of water daily and we dole out 80 million pounds of pesticides and 90 million pounds of chemical fertilizers annually just for our grass. This dilemma extends to the Lower Olentangy Watershed, 40% of which is dedicated to lawn by land area. 

So why do we do it? Why do we spend so much time, energy, money, and space on our lawns when they provide so little ecological value? One acre of tree canopy absorbs seven times the water of lawn rather than allowing that water to runoff. Grass isn’t indigenous to the Americas, while shrubbery and wildflowers – that support native food webs and provide beauty – are. Converting more lawn into gardens, planting native trees and shrubbery, or even transforming your backyard into a prairie or wetland is easier than you might think and better for the watershed than you might know. 

However, most of us might not be willing to abandon our entire lawns for alternatives. Even still, there are ways to mitigate the effects of our lawns to better the health of our environment. Simple adjustments to how you mow, water, fertilize, and apply pesticides can make a big difference for our watershed. 

Rotary push mower with orange wheels cutting the grass and leaving clipping on lawn

Creator: BradWolf; Getty Images/iStockphoto

Mowing is a chore that emits greenhouse gasses – simply put, there is some room for improvement. Mowing higher (cutting your grass taller) produces healthier grass that requires less frequent mowing. The longer blades are able to absorb more sunlight to grow deeper roots and shade the ground, allowing it to hold more moisture. Longer grass directs its energy to health rather than growth, so it requires less frequent cutting. Thicker, longer grass also makes it more difficult for weeds to grow. You should cut your grass to be 2.5” to 3.5” or at your mower’s highest setting. A good rule of thumb is to never cut off more than one-third of the grasses’ height. You can also save time by leaving short grass clippings on your lawn or “grasscycling.” This way, clippings act as an organic fertilizer rather than taking up space in a landfill or ending up in our waterways where the excess nitrogen can cause algal blooms. 

Americans use more water for lawns than for farms. The everyday sprinkler system wastes water and isn’t best for grass. Watering deeply but not as often makes for better roots and more drought-resistant grass. You should apply about 1” of water to wet the top 6” to 8” of soil in the early morning to reduce evaporation. Watering at night can increase the chances of disease. To determine when to water, look for signs of wilting such as a dulled color or footprints that stay compressed for more than a few seconds. During extended dry spells or droughts, a lawn can go dormant and still survive with only about ½” of water every 2 to 3 weeks. 

Over-fertilizing in the midwest is one of the main reasons for the growing dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Good lawn management can reduce the need for fertilizing and limited, careful fertilizing can mitigate some harmful effects. Organic fertilizers provide benefits that synthetic fertilizers lack by preserving the biotic quality of the soil. Manures, meals, compost, minerals, and processed sewer sludge are all synthetic fertilizer alternatives. If using organic fertilizer, apply them less frequently and in the fall because they release nutrients at a slower rate. Generally, only apply any fertilizer twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Do not apply fertilizers or pesticides within twenty-four hours of rainfall to prevent them from running into our water supplies. Similarly, keep fertilizers off impervious surfaces such as sidewalks or driveways by sweeping spills and using a side guard on drop or rotary spreaders. Generally, healthy soil has a loamy texture, is a dark color, and has a good balance of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. If the acidity of your soil is off, you can sprinkle lime or sulfur on your lawn. You can determine the needs of your soil by using a simple soil test and only apply the needed nutrients.

Thatch build up on grass sampleMeasures to improve water filtration, nutrient quantity, and health of grass can be hindered by an overly thick layer of thatch. Thatch is a layer of dead plant material that sits on the soil. Overuse of fertilizer or other factors can cause this layer to exceed ½”, making it too thick for healthy grass. Normally, thatch build-up is prevented by microorganisms and earthworms decomposing the dead matter. You can combat thatch buildup by raking your lawn or mechanically removing soil cores through core aeration. You can do core aeration yourself by renting the equipment from a local hardware store. The best time to aerate is spring or fall. Core aeration should be done in combination with sprinkling a thin layer of topsoil or “top dressing,” which is a surface application of compost. Make use of fallen leaves by chopping them up with your mower then spreading the product with a rake to your soil after aeration. 

Finally, using integrated pest management (IPM) techniques by combining chemical, biological, and mechanical pest control can lighten the impact of pesticides. With good soil quality, healthy thatch levels, and native plants adapted to the environment (or even some that attract pest predators), you should find your lawn to be more pest resistant. Rather than using reactive measures like sprays and chemicals, try preventing weeds by taking holistic good care of your yard. Weeds and pests cannot be completely eliminated, but luckily a lawn can look weed-free even with some straggling weeds. If you are to use a pesticide, first consider using more targeted pesticides with little or no residual effect such as insecticidal soaps, horticultural oils, or corn gluten. When using a synthetic pesticide, use them sparingly and spot treat, read the entire instruction label, wear protective gear, and store and dispose of the pesticide properly. 

For more information about lawn management and backyard conservation, you can consult FLOW’s website, information from the EPA, or hire a local professional lawn care service. You can make a meaningful difference in your community and environment simply by being deliberate and careful in how you do your yard work.

Plant some late blooming “secret flowers”

Join SER (Society for Ecological Restoration) to search for secret flowers! Late-blooming flowering plants like asters, goldenrods, bonesets, and white snakeroot are hiding in your yard and other places around the city. They look like “weeds” all summer, but in the fall, they reveal that they’re secretly flowers that benefit people, pollinators, and wildlife. Follow along in your own yard or a local park, as we show off secret flowers at our campus habitat restoration site and collect their seeds to plant in the spring.

As you plan your garden this spring, consider planting some of these habitat superstars!

Neonics: What They Are and Why You Should Avoid Them

Neonicotiniods, also referred to as neonics, were developed in the 1980s and soon became the most used insecticide in the world. Their popularity spread in part because manufacturers advertised them as “safer” insecticides. By some definitions, this is true. Neonics have a relatively low toxicity to mammals and humans. They can also be applied in a targeted manner, decreasing the amount of run-off product. Yet only a few decades later, neonics have been largely banned in the European Union and have come under scrutiny in the United States. So, what is the problem?

Study after study have linked declining bee and bird populations to the use of neonics. Manufacturers claim that in the real world, wildlife only encounters quantities that are sublethal. The problem is that a sublethal amount of the toxin is enough to cause enormous damage to both an individual and, in the case of pollinators, its colony.

Neonics have several modes of application. These are: seed coating, drenching the soil around the base of a plant, trunk injection, dissolved in irrigation water, or sprayed on leaves. Neonics are a synthetic modification of nicotine, and they work in a similar manner. They are systemic insecticides, which means that regardless of the mode of application, the toxin binds to cells and becomes incorporated and distributed throughout the whole plant. If a bee encounters the pollen of a plant that grew from a treated seed – that bee becomes exposed to the toxin. Is such exposure enough to be dangerous to the bee? Unfortunately, studies show that it is.

Bee on coneflower

A pollinator enjoying an Echinacea flower. Photo by Sonya Afanasyeva.

In the mid-2000s scientists noticed a decline in the number of beehives and started to inspect the effects of neonics on bees. Throughout the 2010s, studies determined with growing certainty that neonics were in fact contributing to the decline of bee populations. According to a 2019 study, neonics have made the American agricultural landscape 48 times more toxic to honeybees than it was 25 years before. The Bombus Affinis, a North American bumblebee, has decreased in 90% of its natural habitats. Much of this decrease has been attributed to neonics. Studies have also discovered that the toxin can be found in soil and pollen up to two years after treated seeds were planted.

Worker bees have complex routines. They learn to understand smells and patterns and memorize the best routes to and from food sources. Neonics affect bees’ nervous systems. They hinder their ability to fly, learn, and memorize. While an encounter with a sublethal dose of neonics will not kill a bee, it affects its health and ability to work. An exposed bee is likely to spread the toxin and bring it back to its hive. As more bees are affected, the threat of colony collapse increases. Neonics can also harm the queens’ ability to reproduce, leading to a decline in worker bee production. Affected larvae take longer to develop and exposed adults have shorter life spans. The toxin can also disrupt bees’ immune systems, making them vulnerable to viral infections.

Songbird with seed

An American songbird. Photo from

Declines in bird populations have also been linked to neonics. Insect eating birds have been harmed both by a decline in their food source and by consuming affected insects. More notable is the dramatic decline in North American songbirds. Much like nicotine, neonics act as an appetite suppressant to seed eating birds. Birds migrate during spring when farmers are planting crops. During migration, gaining weight at stopover sites is crucial for birds. If a bird consumes part of a treated seed, it stops eating and loses weight. One study tracked birds that consumed a tenth of a treated seed. The birds were lethargic and did not have an appetite. They lost 6% of their body mass within six hours, and many stayed behind to recover for an extra three days. Even if a bird recovers, the delay can still damage its chances of surviving and reproducing.

There is good news, though. The Environmental Protection Agency is very concerned with the continued use of neonics in the United States. The agency is working on legislation that would ban or restrict their use. Early in 2019, over 140 garden retailers, including Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, Kroger, and Whole Foods, committed to cut products that contain neonics. Most stores have not yet announced whether they have accomplished this. Home Depot claims to be 98% free of such products. They also label the plants that contain neonics, making it easier for shoppers to avoid them.

You can also help to decrease the spread of neonics. When shopping for plants, ask your nursery staff if they know which products have been treated with neonics. Avoid insecticides with these ingredients: imidacloprid, acetamiprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin, and thiamethoxam, thiacloprid, nitenpyram. Finally, plant flowers that are safe and attractive to pollinators in your yard. Even small urban gardens are valuable to pollinators, who are in turn vital to the health of our ecosystems.

Article by Sonya Afanasyeva

Featured photo: A pollinator friendly garden. Photo by Sonya Afanasyeva.


Garlic Mustard: A Destructive Yet Delectable Invasive

What is it?

Garlic mustard photo

Young garlic mustard. Photo from

You probably know garlic mustard even if you don’t know you know it. Odds are, it has invaded forest areas near you as it has much of the midwest. Garlic mustard, Jack-In-the-Bush, or Alliaria petiolata is a non-native understory invasive plant in North America. Garlic mustard was brought to the Americas nearly two hundred years ago from Europe as a medicinal and culinary herb. Today, it can be found in nearly every county of Ohio.

Crushed garlic mustard leaves have a distinct garlic-y smell, giving the plant one of its names. Its scent is one way to identify the plant. Otherwise, garlic mustard is a biennial (it has a two-year life cycle) and looks different based on its life stage. First-year garlic mustard grows in rosettes close to the ground. Young leaves are round or have kidney shapes and often have purple stems. In its second year, garlic mustard is easier to identify and grows up to three or four feet. It has triangular, heart-shaped leaves with toothed edges. Garlic mustard’s flower is white and four-petaled. To learn more, check out this online resource from the Ohio Invasive Plants Council.

Why is it a problem?

Non-natives follow the “Tens Rule,” meaning that one in ten non-native species will become established in their new environment, but only one in ten of those established species will become invasive. Those few invasive species pack a big punch. Like all non-native invasives, garlic mustard wreaks havoc by out-competing native plants in foreign locations with no natural controls. For instance, our growing deer population does not eat garlic mustard because deer did not evolve and adapt to eat it. This means native understory plants are eaten by deer when garlic mustard continues to spread. Native food-webs and ecosystems are thrown out of balance by invasives like garlic mustard.

Garlic mustard flower

Mature garlic mustard. Photo from

One garlic mustard plant can release thousands of seeds that will remain viable in the environment for up to seven years. This makes it easier for garlic mustard to spread and overwhelm an area, decreasing its biodiversity and health. Most commonly, the plant thrives in forest and edge habitats. Garlic mustard sprouts earlier in the spring than most native species. When native species eventually emerge, garlic mustard blocks sunlight making it more difficult for natives like our beautiful wildflowers to grow. Garlic mustard is particularly damaging because it secretes a compound called sinigrin into the soil that destroys fungal networks that support native species. This makes it even more difficult for resident native plants to thwart the invasive and lessens native plant’s biotic resistance.

Garlic mustard has transformed our natural ecosystems. It can out-compete tree seedlings which halts the recovery of forests. Garlic mustard alters the habitat of mollusks and salamanders, threatening their survival. The West Virginia White Butterfly is particularly endangered by garlic mustard. The butterfly lays its eggs on the plant because it secretes chemicals similar to the butterfly’s host plants. In reality, this is just a disguise as garlic mustard is toxic to the butterfly.

What to do about it?

Removing garlic mustard requires time and vigilance. Because garlic mustard seeds last in the environment, it can take nearly seven years to exhaust the seed bank. Nonetheless, we can all try to fight back against this invasive plant. Garlic mustard can be mechanically removed via pulling and cutting in your yard and local areas. Some chemical solutions exist and even biological controls are being explored. Here, we will focus on mechanical controls. To pull garlic mustard, pull from the base of the stem to remove the entire root system. Try to pull the weed before it seeds. In large infestations, it may be more manageable to cut garlic mustard close to the ground. Either way, be sure to bag and throw out your pulled or cut plants rather than composting them or leaving them at the site, as this will only continue to spread the seeds.

garlic mustard pesto

Garlic Mustard Pesto. Photo by Yossy Arefi.

Or, rather than sending the weeds to a landfill, you can eat them as the Europeans intended! Garlic mustard is a tasty and nutritious plant that is an excellent source of vitamin C. Garlic mustard can be added to salads, made into pesto, and much more. You can find a collection of various recipes here. Garlic mustard should be harvested when young because older plants are more bitter and contain cyanide so therefore must be cooked thoroughly. Garlic mustard shoots are similar to garlic scapes and snap peas while the plant’s roots taste like horseradish. To quote the USDA, let’s eat it to beat it!

This spring, an Americorps team joining FLOW will be removing garlic mustard from the Sawmill Wetlands, the Stratford Ecological Preserve, and the Methodist Theological School of Ohio to combat the spread of the invasive non-native species in the Olentangy watershed. To learn about other invasive species in Ohio and what is being done to control them, check out FLOW’s website or the Ohio Invasive Plants Council’s website.

Cover photo: FLOW volunteer pulling garlic mustard at Sawmill Wetlands (pre-COVID). 

Fungi of the Olentangy

To start, this article will mostly be about fungi that grow along the Olentangy rather than the fungi that grow in it. There are fungi that play important roles in decomposing submerged leaf litter and wood, and some that are major parasites of aquatic animals, but these are mostly microscopic and unlikely to be encountered unless you really set out to find them.

So, what are fungi? If you have come across old enough biology textbooks, you will have learned that fungi are a sort of plant. They are vaguely plant-like, but fungi are now considered to belong in their own kingdom more closely related to animals than any other major group of organisms. Like us, fungi “eat”, but they “eat” by dumping enzymes into or around the things they grow on rather than doing this in a specialized digestive tract within their bodies.

Fungi play three main roles in our environment, and those are decomposer, mutualist and parasite. Some fungi combine these roles, or play some other stranger role, but for the most part, the fungi mentioned here will fit into one of these three major ecological categories.

Most of the fungi that grow along the Olentangy are decomposers of wood, leaves, and other plant materials. Fungi are the most effective wood decomposers in our forests, and without them, our forest floors would have much thicker layers of fallen twigs and branches. Many of the major wood decomposing fungi produce mushrooms, and these mushrooms are then fed upon by animals, cycling nutrients from dead plants back into our ecosystems. Squirrels, deer, box turtles and many sorts of insects and other invertebrates use fungi as a major food source. Humans too. Some of you may know one or two of the Ohioan variety who feed on morels (Morchella species) in the Spring.

What exactly is a mushroom then? In the broad sense of the term, a mushroom is a spore-producing structure of a fungus that can be seen with the naked eye and the organism that produces it. Fungi are made up of microscopic, thread-like cells called mycelium, and most of this mycelium forms networks within whatever the fungi are growing on and are usually difficult to observe without a microscope. When you see a mushroom growing on a log, the portion you are observing is part of a much larger organism spread out within this log.

When the Olentangy floods its banks and leaves behind piles of woody debris, the sticks within these piles contain the mycelium of hundreds if not thousands of species of fungi, some of which will form mushrooms when the environmental conditions are right. This fungal “rafting” is one of the major ways that fungi can spread along the Olentangy along with spreading by spores.

Cerioporus squamosus

Cerioporus squamosus, a common wood decomposing mushroom along the Olentangy. Photo by Ellie Nowels.

One especially common wood-decomposing mushroom species in our area is Cerioporus squamosus, commonly known as the “dryad’s saddle” or “pheasant back”. These produce large shelf-like mushrooms on large fallen logs, dead stumps, and on the dead portions of living trees. The tops, or “caps”, of these mushrooms are brown and have darker brown scales on them that make a pattern somewhat like that of the feathers on a pheasant’s back, hence the common name. The underside of the cap contains many off-white pores where the spores are produced.

Cerioporus squamosus is edible and it often begins before morels do in the Spring. It is not as flavorful as morels, but still perfectly edible when young and tender. It has been eaten by many disappointed morel hunters.

Many of the more sought-after edible mushrooms in Ohio are species that form mutualistic relationships with tree roots. These species produce meshes of plant root tips and fungal mycelium known as “mycorrhizae” where the trees provide carbohydrates to the fungal partner and the fungi provide water and vital minerals to the tree partner. Many sorts of tree in Ohio form mycorrhizae with mushroom-forming fungi, including oaks, hickories, beech, basswood, pines, and spruce. In the floodplains of the Olentangy, the most important mycorrhizal tree species is the cottonwood, although its mushroom partners are mostly either very small or potentially poisonous. There is a greater diversity of mushrooms that form mycorrhizal relationships as you head further from the Olentangy and uphill. The oak-hickory ridge tops along the Olentangy are a great place to see a wide diversity of mushrooms in the Summer and Fall.

One of the more common and charismatic mycorrhizal that grows in our forests from mid-Summer to the early Fall is Cantharellus lateritius, the “smooth chanterelle”. It forms mycorrhizal relationships with hardwood trees and produces bright orange trumpet-shaped mushrooms with caps that have a central depression and an underside that is either smooth or has blunt ridges. It often fruits in large quantities and stands out well against the brown and green of the forest floor. It has a faint fruity odor and has a meaty texture. I have also seen it being eaten by box turtles several times in Central Ohio.

Cantharellus lateritius

Cantharellus lateritius, the “smooth chanterelle”, a common edible mushroom species in our hardwood forests. Photo by Django Grootmyers

The third major ecological category of fungi, the parasites, are very diverse, although mostly microscopic. There are parasitic fungi that parasitize almost every sort of life form there is. The are fungi that are parasites on plants, animals, and even other fungi. There are even fungi that are parasites on other parasitic fungi, and these are known as hyperparasites. Some of the stranger parasitic fungi are those that parasitize insects, also known as entomopathogens. These invade the tissues of the host insect and kill them before bursting through their exoskeleton to produce a fruiting structure. There are some that are able to take control of the host insect’s brain and make it climb to a more suitable place for the fungus to produce spores before killing it.

Massospora cicadina

Massospora cicadina, the “flying saltshaker of death”, a bizarre parasite of cicadas that replaces the host’s abdomen. Photo by John Plischke III.

One especially bizarre example is Massospora cicadina, the “flying saltshaker of death”, which parasitizes cicadas and eventually replaces the host’s abdomen with its own spore producing surface before killing it. The cicada continues to fly around with its abdomen missing “shaking” spores into the air as it goes and will even attempt to mate with other cicadas in this state, further spreading the fungal infection to other cicadas. The fungus produces cathinone, an amphetamine that is also present in the qat tree used as a stimulant in the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa. The cathinone apparently makes the cicada unaware of its missing body parts and allows it to continue to fly around before the fungus completely burns it out and kills it.

There are many bizarre and widely varied species of fungi that grow in our area, and my current best estimate is that there are at least 5,100 species of fungi in Ohio. Because of this, if you look closely at the fungal diversity around you as you walk through our woods, you will very often come across something you have never seen before, maybe even something nobody else has ever noticed before. For those wanting to learn more about mushrooms in Ohio, the Ohio Mushroom Society puts on several yearly mushroom events, or “forays”, where you can have the mushrooms you find identified by mushroom experts and just have a lot of fun in the woods. For more information about the Ohio Mushroom Society, refer to their website at

Django Grootmyers
Student research assistant to Dr. Jason Slot
Department of Plant Pathology, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210

The Lower Olentangy Greenspace Plan is now available

The Olentangy Watershed is currently home to 283,000 people. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) expects this number to nearly double to 500,000 by 2050. With more people comes more development and more impervious surface. Maintaining a healthy watershed with this growth is a challenge that requires careful planning and coordination among several key stakeholders. FLOW’s Greenspace Plan is the first step of such coordination, ensuring that we are protecting and restoring the right places.

FLOW received funding from The Columbus Foundation to produce the Lower Olentangy Greenspace Plan. This was designed as a proactive planning effort to target the protection of high quality areas for the protection of the Olentangy watershed, while accommodating people’s needs for access to greenspace. The Greenspace Plan illuminates the value of accurately inventorying our existing natural resources, provides a framework to educate our citizens, and serves as a tool for prioritizing future efforts and making informed decisions.

The value of greenspace must be recognized for the ‘eco-services’ it provides. We can no longer think of greenspace as “just undeveloped” land. Greenspace provides very quantifiable benefits that cannot be replaced by any other means. Greenspace provides habitat, biodiversity, clean air, healthy places to recreate and heal, and mitigates heat island effects.

The Greenspace Plan assigned scores to land using 22 variables related to ecological resources and opportunities for restoration and protection. The scores were a result of weighting each variable and adding the weighted values of all variables for a particular piece of land. This was completed throughout the entire Lower Olentangy watershed. These were then categorized into five Greenspace Tiers, where Tier 1 represents those areas most important for water quality protection, and Tier 5 displaying the least opportunity for water quality protection. However, greenspace could exist in any of these tiers. Protection of these spaces may be more important within Tiers 1 and 2, whereas greenspace may need to be crated in Tiers 4 and 5.

This Greenspace Plan has been summarized in a report, and the results can be freely accessed here. We hope our partners take advantage of this Greenspace effort for future planning. According to the Trust for Public Lands, the average greenspace in the 100 largest cities in the U.S. covers 15% of their total area. Currently, the Olentangy only has 9% greenspace, and that is without the development anticipated by 2050. Now is the time to plan appropriately for adequate protection of our waterways, and FLOW is now turning its attention to using our Greenspace Plan to prioritize our restoration efforts.

GreenSpace Plan 2020

GIS data page