Muskrat love…or nutria nightmare?

Recent controversy has arisen as to whether muskrat or nutria were sighted in the Arboretum’s wetland. Though not present at the time, I decided to research differences between the two rodents so as to be prepared for future sightings.

Muskrats are much smaller than nutria, weighing only four pounds and reaching an average length of 16 inches. Their tails, which grow nearly as long as their bodies and are flattened on the sides, whip like snakes in the water. Muskrats have yellow- or orange-colored front teeth and black whiskers.

Muskrat (photo by Toria Avigliano)

Nutria, native to southern South America, have conspicuous white whiskers and large orange teeth. Nutria can grow up to two feet in length and weigh up to 12 pounds. Their 13- to 16-inch round tails trail smoothly behind them in the water, while their highly arched backs lend a humpbacked appearance on land.



The feeding and burrowing habits of nutria destroy root mats that secure wetlands, ponds, and rivers. Nutria were introduced in Maryland in 1943; as their numbers have dramatically increased over the years, so has related loss and degradation of coastal wetlands from erosion.

In 2012, the presence of nutria was confirmed at Mud Mill Pond in northern Caroline County. The Arboretum, dedicated to the preservation and conservation of the Chesapeake Bay region’s native landscapes, is hopeful that its wetlands remain free of this non-native pest.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator


Remember how a swing used to make you feel? I remember. As a child, I used to swing so hard I made the swing set rise off the ground with every push. Higher and higher, harder and harder,  till I felt I could touch the sky. It was my first feeling of being free. This must be what a bird feels like when it’s flying. My cousin lived in the country. She had this big old tree swing. It was a worn-out tractor tire. You could wind it up and it would spin and swing. By golly, if you weren’t dizzy when your turn was over, it was no one’s fault but your own.

Then, as a young mother, a swing was a life saver. It never failed to help comfort a little one. But soft, slow swinging was best here. Gone was the exuberance of youth, replaced instead by a slow, steady pace, until they reach the age when you push them on a swing and then they learn to swing themselves. You remember the freedom they feel. Just watching them and listening to their laughter fills you once again with a sense of joy.

Glebes-Frontlines w-tour group

And just recently, I made use of Adkins Arboretum’s swing. There are two, actually, and they can be found in the meadow behind the Visitor’s Center. As I sat there swinging, I remembered how much I loved a swing. I slowly watched an overcast sky turn even darker. A storm was coming.  It was following the bay, as it so often does here on the Shore. The hot, muggy air was replaced by a refreshing cool breeze. One last push on the swing and I headed in, not wanting to get soaked. Take a trip to the Arboretum to enjoy the swings yourself. It’s worth it.

by Diana Beall
Visitor Services Assistant

**The swings mentioned were created by Baltimore artist Marian Glebes as part of the Arboretum’s seventh biennial Outdoor Sculpture Invitational, Artists in Dialogue with Nature. The exhibit is on view (and the swings are available for swinging) through September 30.**

Nature has charms…

The addition of a newborn to the house brings massive change. Days pass in a blur of exhaustion, and twilight—or “the witching hour,” as it’s known in my family—is punctuated by colicky cries. Fortunately, to misquote English playwright and poet William Congreve, nature “has charms to sooth the savage beast.” 

While a quick Internet search revealed little on the soothing effects of nature on young babies nature baby(and trust me, the demands of an infant leave no time for extensive research), experience has proven time and time again that when baby swings and bouncy chairs fail, a gentle walk around the shady backyard or an evening stroll down the street bring instant calm. At 9 p.m., you are likely to find me and the baby pacing the front porch to a serenade of summer crickets.

Nature has charms for all ages. Whether it’s the fresh air, the sunshine, or a cool breeze on a warm day, there’s something about getting outside that soothes the soul. For the ultimate soul-soothing experience, take advantage of long summer days to visit Adkins Arboretum. If the aforementioned playwright had explored the Arboretum’s 400 acres of wildflowers, shady streamside paths, and lush foliage, he might have replaced “music” with “nature,” too. 

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator

The sights, the sounds, the smells…oh, my.

Taking the Upland Walk today provided so much:

Children were gathering for summer camp near the entrance to the forest. The sounds of laughter followed me down the trail. What pure joy. They are carefree and happy. I notice the moss growing underfoot. It feels so soft, and I like the color. As I progress, I find art in the woods constructed of natural materials. Artists are so inventive. It’s a real pleasure to come upon art here. It is so unexpected and fun. 


photo by Toria Avigliano

 A cool breeze picks up, and I notice the sun breaking through some of the trees. As I approach the creek, I notice that the sun is dancing off the water and making a dappling effect on some of the trees. It looks so pretty. Raindrops from last night’s storm still glisten on leaves of some of the bushes like the hearts a’ bursting. It’s of my favorites because it is so different. Birds are calling from high in the trees. While I can’t see them, I can identify a few like the brown thrasher, chickadee, and a robin. A moth lands on my hand and stays awhile. How odd. Maybe he is tasting me. I try to examine him and remember details so I can look him up later. A dragonfly catches my attention. The color in their wings astonishes me. A lightning bug comes by. I wonder why he is flying during the day. Maybe he is enjoying the Arboretum too. 

Blockston Branch - photo by Leah Reynolds

Blockston Branch – photo by Leah Reynolds

Here I come upon some ferns. They are standing straight and tall. They look like sentinels of the forest. You can always find mushrooms pushing through the leaf litter without having to look very hard. The vernal pools found here are filled with water from the storm last night. They are also filled with frogs and insects making hay while the sun shines. Oh, what a delight! I spy some ground pine (Lycopodium obscurum). They look like delicate little pine trees. They are so slow growing that it can take 20 years for them to reach full growth. We must really be very careful not to damage them in any way.

Hmmm, what is that lovely smell? The breeze is bringing me a lovely, sweet smell. It’s the milkweed! Who knew it smelled so nice? A few buzzing bugs bring me back to reality as I exit the woods. I feel so much better than when I started out this morning. So calm and refreshed. Thank you, Adkins, for being such a special, wonderful place where so much beauty can be found.

by Diana Beall
Visitor Services Assistant

Getting crafty about global climate change

My children are not immune to the siren call of the Family Dollar. Pink tubes of plastic lipstick and gleaming pots of Play-Doh and poster paint entice, even though we know from sad experience that these items will break or dry out within hours of purchase. Which is why I’m trying to replace the phrase “Can we buy it?” with “Can we make it?”

The best thing about the “Can we make it?” mindset is that the process 440px-Chandler_strawberriesof creating a play item is often its own reward. My precocious five-year-old now knows that women long ago dyed their lips with strawberry juice. This information resulted in bright red lips and an increased fruit intake. A recipe that’s been in my family since I was a kid makes the softest, squishiest play dough around. Mixing flour, dish soap, and food coloring creates awesome paint.  Need more ideas? Pinterest abounds with crafty, hands-on fun.

Grown-ups can benefit from the “Can we make it?” mindset, too. Buying less stuff is a simple way to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from factories and waste from packaging. It also inspires recycling and refashioning over replacing. With another hot and steamy Eastern Shore summer ahead, any opportunity to combat global climate change just makes sense. And saves cents, too.

by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator