I found the pull-off on West Bailey Road with no problem. I was the first to arrive. Three other cars rolled in after me. In normal times, we would have car-pooled rather than arriving in four separate vehicles.

But these weren’t normal times. These were COVID times. And this was the first time I’d been “face-to-face” with my co-workers in months. Well, it wasn’t exactly face-to-face. In addition to riding in separate vehicles to practice safe social distancing, we spread out as we hiked into Wayne National Forest.

Members of Rural Action’s Sustainable Forestry program were in the woods on a stunning August day to document endangered and threatened forest botanicals near a section of the Baileys Trail System that’s about to be developed. The goal was to be aware of sensitive areas along the trail and identify plants that would need to be relocated because they’re in its direct path.

We didn’t walk far before coming across a deer skull. It was the first of several cool, non-forest botanical discoveries we would make.

We strung out to keep safe distancing as we followed ribbons designating where a future section of the Baileys Trail System would be.

A good sign. This is rattlesnake fern (Botrychium virginianum), which is considered a “pointer fern” indicating the presence of ginseng. As I asked Rural Action Environmental Education Director Joe Brehm if that was more superstition than fact, we found the first of several clusters of ginseng.

Yup. The fern pointed almost directly to this American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).

Rural Action Sustainable Forestry Director Tanner Filyaw gave us all lessons on how to identify ginseng and other botanicals.

While ginseng and other botanicals can be legally harvested on the Wayne National Forest with a permit, over-harvesting has negatively impacted populations throughout ginseng’s native range. Luckily, ginseng can be sustainably cultivated in your forest by simply planting seeds in a suitable growing site.

Rural Action and United Plant Savers have produced The Forest Farmers Handbook: A Beginners Guide to Growing and Marketing At-Risk Forest Herbs. which is a great place to start if you’re interested in growing and harvesting ginseng on your woodlot.

In addition, Rural Action sells planting stock for ginseng, ramps, and goldenseal each August (depending on availability). It’s a great chance to become a sustainable forest farmer.

Rural Action Environmental Education Director Joe Brehm finds American spikenard (Aralia racemosa), which is in the ginseng family. It’s uncommon, and its roots have been used to flavor teas and as an ingredient in root beer.

Thanks to Eugene Hancock’s sharp eye, we found a beautiful fruiting of eastern jack-o’-lantern (Omphalotus illudens). It’s sometimes confused with chanterelles, but don’t make that mistake. Jack-o-lantern is poisonous. It’s also a “glow in the dark” fungus thanks to its bioluminescent properties.

We found this dryad’s saddle (Cerioporus squamosus) during our hunt for botanicals. Dryads are diminutive tree nymphs in Greek mythology, and apparently this fungus, also known as pheasant’s back, looks like a saddle that would suit a dryad.

As we hiked through Wayne National Forest, Rural Action Sustainable Forestry Outreach Coordinator Eugene Hancock used a tablet to take notes on the locations and types of botanicals we found.

Tanner assessed a patch of goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) during our hike.

A healthy patch of goldenseal not far from proposed path of Baileys Trail.

As we headed back to the cars, we came across a fruiting of dead man’s finger (Xylaria polymorpha).

One final delight on our hike: a lone bobcat track in the mud. Despite the cat’s scientific name — Lynx rufus — we weren’t convinced this is Ohio University’s Rufus. Then again, Rufus seems like the type who would enjoy a jaunt along Baileys Trail.

Photo by Ohio University, used under Creative Commons license.