Winter Wonders


Despite freezing drizzle this foggy afternoon, our tour group searched for winter wonders in Longenecker Gardens. Myriad animal tracks led us where we found “Pussywillows”, hazelnut, winterberry, and lots of different kinds of dogwood. When we approached the red-osier dogwoods, we noticed how severely the deer had browsed (torn off) the tips of the branches and how they had used many of the stems to rub the “velvet” off their antlers (buck rub) last fall. And then, we found a winter wonder treasure! Four, gray finger-like objects were poking out of the snow. I know immediately what it was and was more than excited as I removed a single four-point antler that had been shed or “cast” quite recently. Several questions followed

Why did we find only one antler? After the breeding season, antlers are often dropped one at a time. This occurs between mid-December and February.

Does the size of the antler or number of points determine the age of the buck? Was the antler from a four-year old male? One cannot tell the age of a buck by the number of points or the size of the antler. Age is determined by examining the teeth in the lower jaw. Food quality, quantity and calcium form the previous winter affect the growth of the antlers more than age.

How long do deer keep their antlers? Male, Northern, white-tailed deer, grow and shed their antlers annually. Once in a while, a female (doe) has been observed with very small antlers.

How do antlers grow and what causes to the drop? Antlers begin to sprout as knobs in March. They grow rapidly for about fifteen weeks. While antlers are growing they are soft and pulpy and supplied by thick skin covered with stiff hair-like mossy velvet. About four to five months later the antler hardens into bone. Blood supply is cot off and the skin dies. The buck spends a month or so rubbing the velvet off against a small sapling. Bucks continue to polish their antlers even after the velvet is off. IN late October through December, the rutting or mating season takes place. After breeding, the bone at the base of the antler is loosened. From the pedicle by an absorption process and the antler is shed. Many of these facts came from Hartley Jackson’s book Mammals of Wisconsin.

After much discussion and picture-taking, I put the antler back where it was found. And now, it is the rodents turn to find the treasure. They will quickly gnaw and devour the antler for its high calcium and phosphorous content.

What a gift to find a perfect trophy or shed! Good luck as you search for winter wonders in our beautiful Arboretum.

-Sylvia Marek –

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.