Around the Block: Swamp

Witch biome is this?

Ahhh the swamp. The murky, misty, fetid, sodden, swamp. One of my favourite biomes, honestly – it’s relatively safe, full of useful resources, and really quite beautiful when it comes down to it. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Swamps were added to Minecraft in the Halloween Update in October 2010, which added a new terrain generator that included biomes for the first time. The original lineup of biomes included rainforest, seasonal forest, forest, shrubland, taiga, tundra, savanna, plains, desert, frozen desert, and – our biome of the week – the swamp.

They were revamped again in the Adventure Update, which added fancy oak trees covered in vines, then they got lily pads, then swamp huts, then slimes, then dead bushes, then fossils, then Drowned. Today they’re packed with goodies to find and collect!

You’ll know a swamp when you see one. They’re pretty flat – with green-grey lakes covering much of the area, and clay covering their bottoms. Oak trees dot the landscape, there are mushrooms to gather, and in Bedrock Edition you might even see the occasional huge mushroom.

Survival in a swamp is actually pretty straightforward. First, you’ll want to establish a small area of clear, flat ground, and build a house (or consider making one on stilts). The marshy ground makes approaching mobs travel a lot slower than they otherwise might, giving you a lot of time to pepper them with arrows.

Once you’re established, you’ll find plenty of usual and unusual plants to harvest in the swamp. Vines are everywhere, there’s plentiful wood and water, blue orchids grow in the grass, and seagrass grows on the bottom of the lakes while lily pads grow on the surface and sugarcane grows on the shore.

Herds of sheep, pigs, chickens, and cows are easy to find, wandering between the trees and water. At night, you’ll find the usual range of spiders, zombies, skeletons, creepers, and endermen. But depending on the Moon phase you’ll also find slimes – swamps are the only place in the game where they can be reliably found. So that’s pretty special.

That’s not all that’s special about swamps. As you roam through them, you might come across a swamp hut – where a witch lives with her cat. Other witches will occasionally show up around these structures too – so if you’re looking to farm their drops, they’re a good place to hang out. Also, while digging underground, you might find a fossil of a huge, ancient beast. Who knows when these titans roamed the surface?

In the real world, swamps are a type of wetland – and wetlands are one of the most important and biologically diverse of all ecosystems on Earth. They occur naturally on every continent except Antarctica, and do a huge number of useful things.

Ever wondered what the difference is between a swamp and a marsh? Me too! So I looked it up, and it turns out that it’s all about the plants – marshes consist mostly of semi-submerged soft-stem vegetation, while swamps consist of woody shrubs, bushes, and trees.

Historically, humans have considered swamps to be rather undesirable. Partly because you can’t grow very much food in them, and partly because of diseases that are spread by insects living in them. As a result, vast areas of wetland around the world have been drained of their water, filled in, and turned into fields and real estate. Europe has probably lost about half of its original wetland in this way. New Zealand has lost 90%.

We now know, unfortunately, that draining these wetlands was a really terrible idea. Swamps and marshes do a huge number of useful things – purifying water, preventing flooding, storing carbon, stabilizing shorelines, and supporting untold numbers of plants and animals. As a result, many remaining wetlands are now protected and some are being restored.

So while you might be tempted to fill in all the lakes and cut down all the trees next time you’re struggling through a swamp in Minecraft, know that it’s probably best to just let nature do its thing and work with it – not against it.

Written By
Duncan Geere