Cascade Meadow / What We Do / Water

Wetlands 101

Wetlands 101: Wetlands of Minnesota

What is a wetland?

Put simply, a wetland is a piece of land that’s wet. It can be deep or shallow, large or small- if there’s a time of year when the ground squishes and your feet get wet, you’re probably walking in a wetland! A wetland can be called by many names – bog, marsh, swamp, pond, slough, and fen, to list a few, but don’t be fooled- not all of these refer to the same kind of wetland.

Not so long ago, Minnesota had wetlands everywhere- but many of them were drained and filled so that people could grow food and build roads, houses, towns, and cities. In recent years, however, we have come to recognize the many benefits that wetlands have for our environment, and efforts across Minnesota are underway to restore and replace the millions of acres of wetlands that were lost.

While there are many kinds of wetlands, every wetland needs three ingredients: hydric soils, hydrophytic plants, and wetland hydrology.  The root of each of those words is hydra – the Latin word for water. So let’s take a look at each part of this wetland recipe:

  • Hydric soils hold enough water to gush up around your foot when you step on it, at least during some part of the year (like the rainy season).
  • Hydrophitic plants are those that grow best in hydric soils. Cattails, water lilies, and bulrushes love water so much they want their “feet” (roots) to be soaked through for weeks, months, or years at a time!
  • Wetland hydrology is a particular kind of water cycle that’s different from that of lakes and streams.   A wetland takes in water and holds it.  From there, it either seeps, evaporates, or slowly drains into another body of water.

That’s the wetland recipe, and without all three of these important ingredients, you won’t be able to “cook up” a wetland!

How many kinds of wetlands are there in Minnesota?

Across all of Minnesota, there are eight different types of wetlands. Visit the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Website where you can discover a lot more about each type listed below.

Type 1 – Seasonally Flooded Basin or Flat
Type 2 – Wet Meadow
Type 3 – Shallow Marsh
Type 4 – Deep Marsh
Type 5 – Shallow Open Water
Type 6 – Shrub Swamp
Type 7 – Wooded Swamp
Type 8 – Bogs

Why worry about wetlands?

Wetlands do a lot for us, which is one reason why they are really important. Because they hold onto water like a sponge, they can help prevent flooding by slowing down quickly-moving rainwater and giving it a chance to seep into the ground (which also recharges our under-ground drinking water supply).  This temporary water storage also helps bacteria and plants in the wetland break down and filter out excess nutrients and chemicals picked up from the surrounding landscape.  Without a wetland, soils, chemicals and other nutrients would flow straight into our rivers and lakes, muddying or polluting them.

What are some other benefits of wetlands?

  • Wetlands provide opportunities for canoeing, hiking, fishing, hunting, and other kinds of recreation
  • Wetlands can be a source of commercial value, growing cranberries, wild rice, or supporting game populations
  • Wetlands can be great places for us to learn from sciences like ecology, biology, and geology and to be inspired by nature to create writing, art, and music.  Wetlands are laboratories, classrooms, and studios.

Our Wetlands are disappearing!

Wetlands used to cover an estimated 21 million acres of Minnesota’s land, but as much as 11 million acres of wetlands have been lost over the past one hundred years due to development of roads, cities, and the conversion into land for food production.  Luckily, as awareness of the benefits of wetlands has grown, laws have been put into place to protect them.  Visit the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources website for more information about wetland regulation in Minnesota.

Wetlands at Cascade Meadow

Come to Cascade Meadow to experience and learn about our wetlands first-hand!  Inside the Science Center, we have several interactive exhibits for you to check out.  Once the restoration activities at Cascade Meadow are complete, the planned system of wetland trails will take you on a self-guided tour through seven of the eight wetland types listed above.  There will be several learning stations along the way where you can pause, look, listen, and learn more about the areas you pass through.  We’ll have these outdoor trails ready for you in the summer of 2014.  Come now and come when the weather warms up – either way, there’s lots to see and do, so come and explore!




There’s a lot to see in our building, so drop by or contact us by phone or e-mail.

2900 19th Street NW
Rochester, MN 55901