Winter in the Arb

Winter in the Arb

Winter in the Arboretum is full of surprises not usually noticed during the busy growing season months. Strap on a pair of snowshoes and get off trail to follow animal tracks. Or glide along the trails on cross country skis and appreciate the prairie vistas or secluded forest trails.

Many nature observations can be made in the winter, even though the characteristics we normally rely on like leaves or flowers are not available. Most trees can be easily identified by their bark and many prairie plants can still be recognized by their seed heads.

Tree bark has clues that help you to know what species you are looking at.  Deeply furrowed bark is likely a bur oak, while the smoothest bark belongs aspen.  The knobby protrusions of the hackberry and the wide plates of the black cherry make them easy to pick out. Learning these features with winter trees will help make growing season identification easier too!

Many prairie plants retain their seed heads all winter providing great identifying characters.  Wild indigo has tall bunches of seed pods that persist all winter and rattle in the wind producing a very musical sound. Prairie grasses like big bluestem and indian grass generally retain their seed heads until eaten by birds.

While much of our wildlife has migrated or found a protected spot to rest in over the winter months, there are still many animals active. Waterfowl can be seen on the open water of the river, woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches are busy looking for insects and seeds hidden in crevices and under bark, and hawks can be found perching on a sunny treetop or soaring over the prairie in search of the unlucky mouse or vole.

When snow conditions permit, students, staff and faculty can borrow skis or snowshoes from the Recreation Center. Hikers are welcome on the trails in the winter, but please stay to the side to avoid damaging the groomed ski trail.

See these online resources for more information about identifying winter animal tracks: