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The Florida Forests

Habitat types associated with woodlands around Cocoa in Florida

There are six basic woodland habitat types in Florida, commonly called 'Hammocks'. You will encounter most of these throughout your horse ride.

Flatwoods
Hydric Hammocks
Mesic Hammocks
Scrub & Xeric Hammocks
Wet Prairie
Palm Hammock

 

Flatwoods

Flatwoods in Florida include several related communities that are characterized by a relatively open canopy of pines, an extensive low shrub layer, and a variable herbaceous layer. Scrubby flatwoods occur on moderately well drained soil, intermediate between scrub and mesic flatwoods conditions. They have an understory of scrub oaks and other shrubs and an open canopy of longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) or South Florida slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. densa).

Mesic and hydric flatwoods occur on low, flat topography on relatively poorly drained, acidic, sandy soils. In Brevard County, types of mesic and hydric flatwoods include: South Florida slash pine and pond pine (Pinus serotina).

Common shrubs are:
Saw Palmetto, Gallberry Holly, Fetterbush, Staggerbush, Wax Myrtle, Dwarf Huckleberry and Tarflower.
Common herbs include wiregrass (Aristida stricta) and numerous species in the Asteracea (aster family), Fabaceae (pea family), and a few others.

Shallow, fresh water marshes are common in flatwoods. These flood in the wet season (usually summer) then dry out in the winter or spring. Many grasses and herbs occur in these marshes, and some of them are important breeding sites for frogs and other amphibians.
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Hydric Hammocks

Hammock is a term used in Florida for closed canopy forests where the most important species are broad-leaved, evergreen trees. On mesic (moist) or wet (hydric) sites different types of hammocks occur, and the trees reach much larger size. Hammocks contain a rich variety of plant species.
 
Common broad-leaved, evergreen trees include:
Live Oak, Laurel Oak,Cabbage Palm, Red Bay, Southern Magnolia, Sweet Bay.

Deciduous trees include:
Hackberry, Elm, Red Mulberry.
In Brevard County, some hammocks have subtropical species of shrubs that occur near the northern limits of their ranges. Hammocks protect these frost-sensitive species except during particularly hard freezes.
 
Some of these subtropical species include:
Wild coffee, Wild lime, Rapanea, Marlberry, Nakedwood.

Hammocks are shaded and moist compared to the hot, dry scrub. This allows epiphytes to flourish. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, not as parasites, but using the host plant as a place to grow while getting nutrients from rain and dust.
Bromeliads are common epiphytes. Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata) are common, and some larger species such as wild pine (Tillandsia utriculata) occur. Ferns are another group of epiphytes. Resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides) is common on live oaks. During dry periods, resurrection fern dries and curls, but soon after rain it expands and resumes growth. Golden polypody (Phlebodium aureum) and shoestring fern (Vittaria lineata) occur on cabbage palms. Orchids are the third group of epiphytes. Green-fly orchid (Epidendrum conopseum) and butterfly orchid (Encyclia tampensis) are examples.
Hammocks occur on soils that contain more organic matter and nutrients than soils of scrub or flatwoods. These soils remain moist most of the time but don't flood for extended periods. Fire does not occur often in mesic or hydric hammocks because of the moist conditions and the differences in the structure and type of vegetation. shallow, fresh water marshes are common in flatwoods. These flood in the wet season (usually summer) and dry in the winter or spring. Many grasses and herbs occur in these marshes, and some of them are important breeding sites for frogs and other amphibians.
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Mesic Hammocks

On mesic (moist) or wet (hydric) sites different types of hammocks occur, and the trees reach much larger size. Hammocks contain a rich variety of plant species.
 
Common broad-leaved, evergreen trees include:
Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
Laurel Oak (Quercus laurifolia)
Cabbage Palm (Sabal palmetto)
Red Bay (Persea borbonia)
Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana

Deciduous trees include:
Hackberry (Celtis laevigata)
Elm (Ulmus americana)
Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)

In Brevard County, some hammocks have subtropical species of shrubs that occur near the northern limits of their ranges. Hammocks protect these frost-sensitive species except during particularly hard freezes.

Some of these subtropical species include:
Wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa & Psychotria sulzneri)
Wild lime (Zanthoxylum fagara)
Rapanea (Rapanea punctata)
Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides)
Nakedwood (Myrcianthes fragrans)

Hammocks are shaded and moist compared to the hot, dry scrub. This allows epiphytes to flourish. Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants, not as parasites, but using the host plant as a place to grow while getting nutrients from rain and dust.

Bromeliads are common epiphytes. Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) and ball moss (Tillandsia recurvata) are common, and some larger species such as wild pine (Tillandsia utriculata) occur. Ferns are another group of epiphytes. Resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides) is common on live oaks. During dry periods, resurrection fern dries and curls, but soon after rain it expands and resumes growth. Golden polypody (Phlebodium aureum) and shoestring fern (Vittaria lineata) occur on cabbage palms. Orchids are the third group of epiphytes. Green-fly orchid (Epidendrum conopseum) and butterfly orchid (Encyclia tampensis) are examples.

Hammocks occur on soils that contain more organic matter and nutrients than soils of scrub or flatwoods. These soils remain moist most of the time but don't flood for extended periods. Fire does not occur often in mesic or hydric hammocks because of the moist conditions and the differences in the structure and type of vegetation. shallow, fresh water marshes are common in flatwoods. These flood in the wet season (usually summer) and dry in the winter or spring. Many grasses and herbs occur in these marshes, and some of them are important breeding sites for frogs and other amphibians.
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Scrub & Xeric Hammocks

Florida scrub vegetation is a rare and vanishing ecosystem. Brevard County contains regionally important scrub ecosystems; these support some of the remaining populations of the Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) and other rare, threatened, and endangered species. Scrub in Brevard County has been reduced greatly by development; for example, it is estimated that in Brevard County north of Cocoa the total area of scrub decreased by 69% between 1943 and 1991.

Florida scrubs typically are dominated by one or more of four oak species. These oaks are not trees, but shrubs, rarely exceeding 8' in height. Structurally, the scrub oaks look similar, but can be identified by their leaves.

Sand live oak (Quercus geminata), has oblong, evergreen leaves, about 2-3" long, with curled-under edges and pubescence (hairiness) beneath.
Myrtle oak (Q. myrtifolia), has shiny, rounded evergreen leaves, about 2" long, that are glabrous (without hairs) beneath. (Use the tip of your tongue to feel for pubescence on leaves.)
Chapman's oak (Q. chapmanii), has larger, deciduous leaves with various irregular shapes and irregular pubescence. These three oaks are found in nearly all Florida scrubs.
Inopina oak (Q. inopina), occurs in scrubs in central Florida only, and usually replaces myrtle oak. The leaves of Inopina oak are curled and directed upward.
Periodically these bushy oaks are burned to the ground only to resprout from underground root systems that may actually be more massive than the above ground parts. The longer a scrub goes without burning, the larger the scrub oaks become, and if a scrub is prevented from burning for more that 40-70 years they (especially sand live oak) will become small trees. The acorns of the scrub oaks supply food for scrub jays and many other animals. The scrub oaks are the "backbone" of the Florida scrub.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens)
Saw palmetto is a common feature in many southeastern US habitats, and is always present in Florida scrub. Saw palmetto is a creeping palm with a trunk that lies on or just below the ground surface. Within just 3 days following a fire, palmetto begins to sprout back from its unburned growing tip. Saw palmetto looks a lot like scrub palm, the other low-growing palm in Florida scrubs. Saw palmetto berries are an important food for many wildlife species including bears, raccoons, possums, and various insects. The berries also have found a medicinal use for humans in the treatment and prevention of enlarged prostate gland.
Scrub Holly (Ilex cumulicola)
Scrub holly is sometimes considered a variety (var. arenicola) of the wide-ranging American holly (I. opaca). It differs from American holly in its smaller stature and smaller, narrower leaves that are yellowish, strongly curled, and held upright. Scrub holly is restricted to scrubs from Marion County to Highlands County. Following fire, scrub holly resprouts like other scrub shrubs, but sometimes it may survive above ground and start growing again from the top, resulting in a holly that stands above the scrub's oaks and crookedwood which resprouted from their roots.
Scrub Olive (Osmanthus megacarpa)
Scrub olive occurs in scrubs, sand pine forests and dry hammocks throughout central Florida. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree up to 12' high with shiny green, 3-5" opposite leaves. The flowers are inconspicuous but pleasantly fragrant, like the related tea olive (O. fragrans). The fruits are much larger (over an inch in diameter) than the widespread wild olive or devilwood (O. americana) of the southeastern United States. (It is typical for scrub plants to have larger, but fewer, fruits than their non-scrub relatives.) Our olives are in the same family (Oleaceae) as the true olive (Olea europaea) of the Mediterranean region, but for some reason ours haven't been cultivated for food.

Features uniting these types include:

  • a shrub layer of evergreen, shrub species including Myrtle oak, Chapman oak, Sand live oak, Staggerbush, Rusty lyonia, Shiny blueberry, Saw palmetto and Florida rosemary;
  • occurring on well-drained sites on sandy soils low in nutrients; and
  • burning in periodic, intense fires.

Scrub Indicator Species
Animals that occur in scrub include:

  • Gopher Tortoise Gopherus polyphemus
  • Florida Scrub Lizard Sceloporus woodi
  • Eastern Indigo Snake Drymarchon corais couperi
  • Florida Scrub Jay Aphelocoma coerulescens
  • Florida Mouse Podomys floridanus  

All of these are on threatened or endangered animals lists.

Scrub Communities

The major types of scrub communities are described below.
 
Sand Pine Scrub. Sand pine scrub has a closed to scattered canopy of sand pine (Pinus clausa) and an understory of myrtle, Chapman, and sand live oaks, saw palmetto, rusty lyonia, and other shrubs. Florida rosemary may occur. In Brevard County, sand pine scrub is found primarily on the mainland on higher ridges of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge.

Rosemary Scrub. Rosemary scrub (rosemary bald) is typically an open shrubland dominated by Florida rosemary with numerous open, sandy areas. In Brevard County, rosemary is found with sand pine scrub and some oak scrub on the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, but areas dominated by rosemary are rare.

Oak-Saw Palmetto Scrub. Oak-saw palmetto scrub is a shrubland dominated by Scrub oaks, Saw palmetto, and shrubs in the heath family including Rusty lyonia, Staggerbush, Shiny blueberry, Setterbush (Lyonia lucida), and Tarflower (Befaria racemosa). Associated species may include Florida rosemary, Scrub hickory (Carya floridana), and Wiregrass (Aristida stricta).

Xeric hammocks are closely related to scrub communities. Xeric hammock is a closed canopy forest of relatively low height with a canopy typically of scrub oaks (Quercus geminata, Q. myrtifolia, Q. chapmanii), and an understory of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens). In some cases live oak (Quercus virginiana) may form the canopy. Other scrub shrubs may be present and may reach small tree size (e.g., rusty lyonia [Lyonia ferruginea], scrub hickory [Carya floridana]).
Xeric hammocks occur on scrub sites, that is, ridges with well-drained, low-nutrient, sandy soils. Xeric hammocks occur naturally where some landscape feature such as a river or lake prevented the spread of fire and allowed scrub oaks to reach fire-resistant size. Fire suppression and landscape fragmentation have allowed much scrub vegetation to develop toward xeric hammock conditions.
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Wet Prairie

A seasonally flooded, shallow freshwater marsh found in depressions, sloughs, finger glades & the floodplains or margins of lakes, streams and rivers.

Wet Prairie habitat & the transitional areas from a Wet Prairie habitat to the surrounding, habitat are rich in species diversity. Wet Prairies are also an excellent example of the difference that small changes in elevation can have on the type of habitats found in Florida.

Plants common to Wet Prairies - St. John's Wort's, Sedges, Muhly grass, Sawgrass, Groundsel bush, Wax Myrtle, Sundews, Meadowbeauty, Marshpink, Switchgrass, Coreopsis.
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Palm Hammock

As the name implies the dominate species is the Sabal palm. Understory plants include vines, grasses, ferns and various herbaceous plants, which are determined primarily by the type of soil and available moisture.
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