Spooky finds in the Metroparks

They’re not usually a spooky place. But there’s a little more scare to the Metroparks than meets the eye.
Published: Oct. 29, 2021 at 5:33 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - From sinister sounds to terrifying trees, the Metroparks have plenty of spooky season fun to offer.

“When you look at the Sycamore tree at nighttime, their arms, or their branches, glow against the moonlight, and it kind of looks like a skeleton at nighttime,” says Kendra Rison, an Environmental Education Specialist with Metroparks Toledo. Native Americans gave them the nickname ‘the Ghost Tree’.”

You can identify sycamores by the color of their trunk and branches. “Starting at the bottom, its bark is nice and grey,” says Rison. “But as you look more and more up, it looks sicker because the bark is shed off. As the tree grows older, the bark sheds so that new bark and grow up from the roots.”

Legend says people fleeing enslavement used the trees to find waterways along the Underground Railroad. But maybe what’s in the trees could frighten you too, like the barred owl.

“They have a really distinctive call,” explains Madison Lindsay, the Day Camp Coordinator with Metroparks Toledo. “It sounds like, ‘Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?’ They will also get going to do this amazing chorus of hoots and cackles and caws, and so it will sound like coyotes or witches, all kinds of things that could be lurking in the woods.”

Lindsay says the following is a legend of the barred owls:

A long time ago, there were two children walking in the woods, exploring and playing. They were getting hungry when they came upon a cabin, where it smelled like freshly-baking bread. There were three witches inside baking the bread. The children knocked on the door and asked, ‘please, miss, can we have some of that bread that you’re baking?’ A witch came to the door and said ‘who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?’ The other witches joined in, saying, ‘who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?’ Just then, the bread started baking, getting bigger and bigger until it filled the whole cabin up. Then, it burst the cabin, sending the witches up into the treetops, where they transformed into owls. Some say you can still hear: ‘Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?’

The barred owls are named for their brown horizontal and vertical markings.

“They’ve got the facial disk and that can kind of help with sound. They’ve also got that hooked beak.,” says Lindsay. She goes on to describe the spookiest feature of the owls as their black and brown eyes. But she says they can be fun, too. They can be talkative, and answer to dogs barking, sirens, or if you try to mimic their “hoo’s”.

Closer to the ground, you can find some peculiar plants.

“If you’re walking through the woods and you see little yellow flowers, and you smell fresh linen, that’s typically going to be our witch hazel,” says Madisyn Watkins, the Camp Inclusion Programmer with Metroparks Toledo. “According to folklore, it would actually scare horses whenever you’d pass by it. And settlers thought it was bewitched somehow.”

But the reality of witch hazel and its tendency to scare the horses: “On really humid nights, the big seed pods on witch hazel would burst, and shoot little seeds several feet into the air, enough to sting the horses and scare them,” Watkins explains.

She says you can identify witch hazel by the ridges around the outside of the leaf, similar to Ruffle chips. You may even notice small heaps that look like the tips of witches’ hats, which are actually mounds of eggs laid by insects.

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