Nature Notes

Scouting for Spring

A single cattail contains 10,000 to 25,000 seeds – and the plant also spreads via underground roots called rhizomes.  These two reproductive methods allow cattails to form dense colonies of vegetation.

By Greg Lecker

Birdcalls greeted my arrival this morning:  chickadee, red-bellied woodpecker and pileated woodpecker.  Crows too – huge flocks of crows have been gathering on the way to their nighttime roosts as they often do at this time of year. 

Daylight Savings Time began this morning. We’re all a little slow getting started this morning.  A few visitors and I arrived just as the caretaker opened the rolling gate.  We enjoy clear skies with strong warm sun.

Early Visitors

A flock of turkeys has gathered near the birdfeeder at the Sensory Garden and overlook of Green Heron Pond. Love is in the air; the males are displaying their virility for the females.

Bog Path

On the far side of the pond, I stop off the bog boardwalk to explore the frozen wetland. The log and wood chip path allows a visitor to peer into the interior of the wetland and find signs of the coming spring.

Swelling Buds

Whereas buds mark the future, the fertile fronds of the royal fern recall the previous year.

Royal Fern Fertile Fronds

Much of the biomass (vegetation) surrounding Green Heron Pond consists of cattails.

Cattail Seedhead

A single cattail contains 10,000 to 25,000 seeds – and the plant also spreads via underground roots called rhizomes.  These two reproductive methods allow cattails to form dense colonies of vegetation. This habitat supports a wide range of waterfowl.  And, within four to six weeks, male red-wing blackbirds will return to the cattail marsh to scout territory for budding families.

As I leave the Arboretum today, I notice a mound in the wetland to the east of the entry drive. It is a muskrat lodge.

Muskrat Lodge

Everything about a muskrat is smaller than a beaver – though they are both aquatic mammals.  A muskrat weighs just two to four pounds compared to a beaver, which weighs 30 to 70 pounds. A beaver constructs its lodge using sticks and branches. A muskrat uses stems and leaves of green plants. Like the beaver lodge, the muskrat lodge is entered via underwater passages.  The muskrat’s rear feet are partially webbed, the better to swim. A double layer of fur and its lodge offers protection and warmth for the muskrat even during a cold winter like the one we’ve endured.

March 2022 has been colder than normal – especially compared with 2021. By this point last year, MSP Airport had a number of 50-degree days and even two 60-degree days. This week should bring our first 50-degree days. I encourage you to get outside and enjoy the warmth!


 Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.

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