FLORA AND FAUNA. The early settler who cleared a bit of forest for his cabin and garden began to change the area's plant and animal life. In the forest around his cabin he could hunt deer, bear, wild turkey, and smaller animals necessary for daily living. Indians before him may even have encountered elk and wood buffalo. The rapid rise in population and industrialization nearly wiped out the native vegetation and forest-living animals by the mid-1800s. From then on, native plants and animals were replaced by human importation, either on purpose or by accident, that thrived and sometimes crowded out native species.

Written accounts of the original forests are sketchy at best, but there are enough living remnants and accounts to reconstruct their nature and content. We obtain a picture of the forest community from early surveyors' practice of using living trees as markers for lot corners. They recorded some 20 species. Our best clues as to what the original forests were like are the sizable areas preserved by the Cleveland Metropolitan Park District throughout the area. Many of these areas were timbered, and some were farmed, but many have recovered naturally or by planting trees that would quickly provide forest cover, such as white and red pine, which are American, and Scotch and Austrian pine, which are European. In the main, however, there are forest ecosystems in most of the reservations that look much as they did in the days of MOSES CLEAVELAND.

In the reservations of the eastern highlands, there are good examples of the climax forest of the eastern U.S., dominated by American beech and sugar maple trees. A detailed study of this forest ecosystem was made in the N. Chagrin Reservation from 1930-40 by ARTHUR B. WILLIAMS, ecologist for the CLEVELAND MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY and park naturalist for the Metropolitan Park District. He found that 51% of the trees that measured 3.5" in diameter were American beech; 26.5% were sugar maple; the remaining 22.5% were of 16 species, with red maple, tulip, red oak, white ash, basswood, and cucumber tree most prominent. The nature of the soil resulting from the decay of leaves, trunks, and branches over the years is in the middle range of the pH scale, not too acid or too alkaline. The area is also not too wet or too dry, providing an excellent display of spring wildflowers, beginning early with spring beauties, hepaticas, and bloodroot and continuing through mass displays of red and white trilliums, yellow adder's-tongue, Dutchman's-breeches, squirrel corn, and foamflowers, to mention a few of the 61 species of wildflowers and low shrubby plants listed in the report. Fourteen species of ferns were also listed. Twenty-nine species of birds nested in the 65-acre study plot, headed by the red-eyed vireo, followed by wood thrush and 5 warblers—American redstart, ovenbird, Louisiana water thrush, and black-throated green. Williams listed wild turkey as a former but no longer present resident. Of the 25 species of mammals listed, the short-tailed shrew and white-footed mouse were the most numerous, followed by red, gray, and flying squirrels and chipmunks. Larger mammals included woodchucks, opossums, raccoons, skunks, and red and gray foxes. Williams listed Virginia deer, bobcat, and black bear as formerly present. The Virginia deer is the only one of this group to return; abandoned farms in eastern counties and changing agricultural practices allowed shrubs and young trees to grow that provided ideal food for deer and encouraged their migration from Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

The broad floodplains of the Chagrin, Cuyahoga, and Rocky rivers provide an entirely different forest ecosystem. Here only trees and plants that can withstand frequent flooding, with subsequent deposit of sediment over their roots, will survive. The dominant trees of the floodplains are cottonwood, American sycamore, Ohio buckeye, black walnut, butternut, American and slippery elm, ash-leaved maple (also called box elder), and black rock maple. Two wildflower displays are provided by the conditions of the floodplain. In addition to the woodland flowers of the hillsides, which are basically the same as those of the eastern uplands, the floodplains have white as well as yellow adder's-tongue, giant Solomon's seal, cow parsnip, Virginia bluebell, and Canada lily, to mention a few in spring. In the late summer and early fall the floodplain is covered with tall plants dominated by the yellows of several species of wild sunflowers, green-headed cone flower, Indian cup plant, and yellow and orange touch-me-not. The birds unique to the floodplains are those adapted to the river and river edge. Great blue, green-backed, black-crowned, and yellow-crowned night herons, American bittern, and kingfisher find food in the river. Spotted sandpipers nest on the gravel edges and islands; wood ducks nest in the forest trees; song sparrows and yellow and yellowthroat warblers nest in the shrubs along the river's edge. Similarly, mammals oriented to rivers such as raccoon, muskrat, and mink are present. With the abundance of nuts, squirrels find plenty of food. Deer populations are increasing.

Rocky River Valley is also unique in that a number of species of plants are found here that are not found in the Cuyahoga or Chagrin floodplains. Sessile trillium, isopyrum related to rue and wood anemone, white adder's-tongue, and giant Solomon's seal are common in western Ohio and neighboring Indiana but are not found farther east than the Rocky River Valley. Oak-hickory forests grow best on the tops of ridges of the deeply dissected terrain of the southern portion of Cuyahoga County and the flat lands of the western suburbs. Red, black, and scarlet oaks and shagbark, pignut, and bitternut hickories thrive on drier soils and provide a more acid soil as the leaves, branches, and trunks decay. Only plants that can tolerate these conditions can survive. Wildflowers such as partridge berry, wintergreen, spotted wintergreen, coral root orchid, and rattlesnake plantain all prefer this type of forest. Low bush blueberries and several species of mosses prefer these drier and more acid soils. Birds and mammals are similar to those of the beech-maple forest to the east. The exception is the fox squirrel, which prefers the more open forest and forest edges provided by the oak-hickory community and are present more often to the west, where the forest extends into the grassland of the prairie. As forest conditions have changed, fox squirrels have moved eastward and now are nearly equal in numbers to the original gray squirrels.

Trees and plants that are at home farther north are found on east- and north-facing slopes of the CHAGRIN and CUYAHOGA RIVERs, as well as in deep ravines having an east/west orientation. Formerly in this area, white pine was harvested for lumber by early settlers. Now hemlock, black and yellow birch, American yew, native juniper, and mountain maple are found, as well as the rare lady's-slipper orchid and trailing arbutus. Northern birds such as black-throated green warblers nest, and in a few localities the nests of dark-eyed junco have been found. The Hudson Bay jumping mouse is the only northern mammal found here.

Early reports indicate that there were a number of wet areas and swamps between EUCLID AVE. and Lake Erie, which have all been reclaimed. The vast array of forest ecosystems that exists in the area due to a variety of terrain provides the greatest diversity of plants and animals in the state. But what of the urban community? Here human activities have provided habitat for plants and animals that can tolerate congestion and adverse atmosphere conditions. By the early 1900s, a portion of Euclid Ave. became "Millionaires Row" and landscape architects planted the estates of wealthy industrialists with such novelties as southern magnolias and the newly discovered ginkgo imported from China. Other residential streets were planted with fast-growing trees, such as silver maple, pin oak, Norway maple, and London plane tree—a hybrid cross between the native sycamore and Oriental sycamore, now the most common street tree in the city. Horse chestnuts from Europe, both the white and pink varieties, have replaced the Ohio buckeye, and the native American elms were replaced with either European or Oriental elms. The little leaf linden from Europe was found to be so adaptable to city conditions that it can be planted in tubs along downtown streets. Flowering cherry trees brighten suburban boulevards. In the early 1940s, the city's Div. of Shade Trees developed several trees, such as the globe and columnar maples, that grow to proportions more suitable to crowded street conditions. The native honey locust, a tree with an array of multiple thorns, was developed in the late 1920s into a variety that was not only thornless but also without unsightly seed pods.

A number of plants can be found along arteries of transportation. Sunflowers from Kansas and nodding thistles from Midwest prairies are familiar along highway innerbelts and in the FLATS of the Cuyahoga River. These and other exotic species have grown from spillage of shipments of grain on highway and railroad rights-of-way. Sand reed grass, beach grass, sand cherry, and the rare pitcher thistle, plants native to the great dunes of Lake Michigan, are growing on an unused pile of sand near the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, brought by a freighter from Lake Michigan. Highway beautification was given increased emphasis by Lady Bird (Mrs. Lyndon B.) Johnson. Since that time, various agencies have brought a number of unusual plants to brighten highways and hold soil on steep embankments, such as crown vetch. Mammals in the surrounding natural areas have remained fairly constant. In the early 1940s, the Virginia deer returned to the area and have since become a nuisance in some suburban areas. Beaver began returning to northeastern Ohio as early as the 1940s, with their return to streams causing flooding in some instances and doing considerable damage to trees in others. In the more densely populated areas, raccoons, opossums, skunks, and chipmunks make themselves at home. Transportation arteries have contributed unwanted rats and mice since the beginning of urbanization.

The shoreline of Lake Erie is a natural pathway for spring and fall migrating birds. Thousands of bluejays stream along the shoreline during a week in early May, probably crossing at Erie or Buffalo. In the fall there is a similar flight of bank swallows moving west. Many species can be seen in downtown Cleveland and in parks along the lake awaiting favorable weather conditions to cross the lake or resting after an overwater flight in the late summer and fall. In general, the bird population has remained reasonably constant during the time that systematic records have been kept. Some new species have been added. The cardinal was considered a rare bird in the early 1900s; now it is common year-round, so abundant and attractive that it became the state bird in 1959. After an importation to Cleveland in 1869, the English, or house sparrow, has become a dooryard pest. In 1890 80 European starlings were released in Central Park in New York City. A count of starlings roosting on buildings on PUBLIC SQUARE during 1930-33 was estimated to be 19,900. A few pairs of house finches were released in New York in 1940. They were first reported in Holden Arboretum in 1964, and are now a regular nester around homes, gardens, and even in hanging flower baskets on balconies of high-rise apartments. Perhaps because of more persistent and well-informed observers, many new gulls have been reported wintering along our lakefront, including great and lesser black-backed gulls from the Arctic, Franklin's gull from the Midwest, the California gull from the Far West, and the little gull from Europe. The Ohio Division of Wildlife introduced Peregrine Falcon to the area in the early 1990s. The department felt that the tall buildings in downtown Cleveland could provide nesting sites for the birds. To start, a nesting box was provided on a window ledge on the 12th floor of the TERMINAL TOWER and a captive-raised pair was placed there. In 1993 a sterile female was removed so that the male could find a fertile mate. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History's Dept. of Wildlife Resources has monitored the nest site. Within three weeks, the male recruited a new mate and the pair successfully hatched two chicks. Museum staff and wildlife biologists have continued working together to increase local populations of this endangered species.

Efforts on the part of the Cleveland MetroParks System and the CUYAHOGA VALLEY NATL. RECREATION AREA to purchase land along the old Ohio Canal, thereby extending the present system of all-purpose trails into the heart of downtown Cleveland continue. This work will thus create a corridor of habitat for numerous species and ensure the diversity of plants and animals within Greater Cleveland, the "FOREST CITY."

Harold E. Wallin

Cleveland State Univ.

See also:  VEGETATION CA. 1800.


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