Arboretum Sampler

Muskrat lodge near Icke Boardwalk

Muskrat lodge near Icke Boardwalk

I have a particular love for late fall through early spring at the Arboretum, because although there are no showy woodland flowers or bright prairie blooms or colorful leaves, there is so much going on and many beautiful sights to see—including botanical splendor that is hidden by the thick leaves and flashy colors of late spring through early fall. At the beginning of our walk, for example, we stopped to appreciate the curved lines and smooth bark of the weeping beech tree at the edge of Longenecker Horticultural Gardens, as you walk down the woodland path from the Native Plant Garden. This beauty is obscured by leaves all summer!

Continuing on, we checked out the progress of the muskrats in the wetland area along the Icke Boardwalk. Last I heard, there was one large den and another one in process. The large den sure is large. And there were three smaller piles—unclear if they were in process or abandoned. To my knowledge, this is the first time that muskrat activity has been seen along the Icke Boardwalk. Muskrats are native to North America and, for the record, are not rats. They are, however, invasive in some European countries. We often talk about invasive species at the Arboretum, such as buckthorn and jumping worms. These invasive species (particularly plant species) are often called “Eurasian” species, which is not particularly precise but gets across the basic idea that they are not from this continent. Muskrats are an example of a North American species that has been introduced and become invasive in (an)other continent(s).

Nearing the road crossing, traveling from Gallistel to Wingra woods, we noticed a circular area of cleared leaf cover and bare soil. At first, I thought it was a place where turkeys had plucked and picked (as they do). But then we noticed some scraped and stripped bark along a small opportunistic tree shoot that came off of a larger trunk—buck rub! A deer had rubbed his antlers/forehead on this branch. Looking closer, we now saw deer hoof prints in the bared soil. We wondered if the soil clearing was deer-caused or if it was a turkey clearing in the same spot as a buck rub. Although deer rubs are often characterized as something deer do to “rub off” their antler velvet, it’s more about dominant bucks marking territory and sending other social signals via scents and markings. Later that day I noticed another patch of bare soil, also with hoofmarks. I’m guessing that the bared soil next to the rubbing was all deer, no turkey. At this time of year, deer will eat what they can find.

We looped through Wingra Woods, and returned though Longenecker Horticultural Gardens again, pausing at the chestnut trees to admire the spiny-velvety husks while they were still visible, before winter snowfall. Happy hiking!

—Sara Christopherson