Native Plant Communities

Xeric Uplands
High Pine, Sandhill, Clayhill High pine is a temperate to peninsular climate ecosystem on hilltops and gentle slopes. It is characterized by excessively drained soils (if sand, the community is sandhill; if clayey, clayhill). High pine is a pyrophytic plant community with a natural fire frequency of 2-5 years. It typically has widely spaced longleaf pine and/or turkey oak with wiregrass understory. Absence of pines is usually due to past management, especially logging and usually results in a sandhill dominated by xeric oaks, especially turkey oak. Fire suppression can result in a shift toward scrubby vegetation - a so-called scrubby sandhill.

High Pine - a controlled burn is in progress.

Scrub Scrubs occur in all Florida climates (temperate, peninsular, subtropical) on old dunes with deep fine sand soils that are excessively drained. This is a fire-dependent community with an occurrence of 20-80 years. Scrub is in a sense fire-resistant, but when a burn occurs, it is typically hot. Scrub is characterized by sand pine and/or scrub oaks and/or rosemary and lichens. Scrubs are often subcategorized on the basis of the dominant species (sand pine scrub, oak scrub, rosemary scrub. Scrubs of the central ridge (Lake Wales Ridge) are among the oldest plant communities in Florida and are home to high numbers of endemic and rare species.

Typical rosemary scrub in Highlands County.

Xeric Hammock Xeric hammock is a community type typically derived from sandhill, scrub, or scrubby flatwoods either by fire exclusion or an artificial fire regime based on winter burns. The absence of fire (or winter burn regime) allows the original ecosystem to be invaded by species usually associated with more mesic sites. With increasing time since fire, xeric hammocks take on very much of the character of Upland Mixed Forest or Slope forest. The typical xeric hammock has an overstory of sand live oak associated with sand post oak, turkey oak, pignut hickory, blackjack oak, and/or laurel oak, and a sparse understory of sparkleberry, oaks, and rusty lyonia. The ground may be essentially bare or there may be a dense cover of saw palmetto.

Xeric Hammock near Juniper Springs in Ocala National Forest. Like many xeric hammocks, this one originated as scrub that has become overgrown.

Dry Mesic Uplands
Scrubby Flatwoods Scrubby flatwoods are intermediate in character between scrub and flatwoods. They often occur on low knolls in areas otherwise occupied by mesic flatwoods. Relative to scrub, they are less well drained and soils often have a hardpan at depth. These are fire-dominated communities with fire frequencies on the order of 4-10 years. Vegetatively, they are characterized by longleaf pine or slash pine with scrub oaks and wiregrass understory. Tarflower Bejaria racemosa is strongly associated with scrubby flatwoods. Scrubby flatwoods is a preferred habitat of the Florida scrub-jay and the Florida mouse.

Scrubby Flatwoods at Pumpkin Hill State Park.


Tarflower, a species highly characteristic of scrubby flatwoods.

Dry Mesic Hammock, Pine-Oak-Hickory Woods, Upland Hardwoods, Temperate Hardwoods A dry-mesic hardwood-dominated community with rare or no fire; soils range from sandy to clayey; vegetation varies with climate, but common species include loblolly pine, live and/or laurel oak and/or magnolia, pignut hickory, red bay, and other hardwoods.

Upland mixed forest at Manatee Springs State Park.

Mesic Uplands
Mesic Hammock, Piedmont Forest, Beech-Magnolia Forest, Slope Forest, Second Bottom Mesic hammocks are mesic forests typically associated with moderate to steep slopes in ravines, uplands adjacent to rivers, and other areas protected from fire; soils range from sandy/clayey; Typical overstory species include southern magnolia, beech, spruce pine, Shumard oak, Florida maple, and other hardwoods.

Slope forest in Torreya State Park, Gadsden County.

Mesic Flatwoods (peninsula variant) Mesic Flatwoods are found in extensive flat areas characterized by sandy soils usually with a hardpan at moderate depth; fire is frequent. Typical vegetation includes a slash pine and/or longleaf pine overstory, sometimes sparse, with a saw palmetto, gallberry and/or wiregrass grass understory. A variant community, palmetto prairie, is similar but lacks the pine overstory. Some palmetto prairies may be natural phenomena, but most are of anthropomorphic origin caused by timbering of the pines followed by fire and grazing regimes incompatible with the establishment of a new overstory.

Flatwoods at Forever Florida, Osceola County. Photograph taken at FNPS field trip after a BOD meeting, 2002.

Mesic Flatwoods (panhandle variant) Mesic Flatwoods are found in often extensive flat areas characterized by sandy soils usually with a hardpan at moderate depth; fire is frequent. Typical vegetation includes a longleaf pine overstory, sometimes sparse, with a wiregrass dominated groundcover and little understory. Dwarf running oaks are sometimes abundant.

Flatwoods at Ochlockonee River State park.

Dry Prairie Dry prairie covers extensive flat areas characterized by sandy soils usually with a hardpan at moderate depth; fire is frequent. Typical vegetation is dominated by wiregrass with large numbers of seasonal wild flowers. Palmettos may exist but if abundant are a sign of past grazing and winter burning. True dry prairie was never forested and is not flatwoods minus its overstory. Most dry prairie has been converted to agriculture with notable remnants at Three Lakes WMA, Kissimmee Prairie State Park, and the Avon Park Bombing Range.

Flatwoods at Ochlockonee River State park.

Wet Flatlands
Wet Flatwoods Wet flatwoods are found on extensive, poorly drained, flat areas. They may be inundated during periods of high rainfall. They may be subtropical or be in areas of peninsular climate; fire is frequent; vegetation is characterized by an overstory of slash pine or pond pine and/or cabbage palm with mixed grasses and herbs.

Wet flatwoods in the Green Swamp, Sumter County.

Everglades, Wetland glades, Marl Prairie Flatland with marl over limestone substrate; seasonally inundated; tropical; frequent to no fire; sawgrass, spikerush, and/or mixed grasses, sometimes with dwarf cypress.

Marl prairie in Everglades National Park, Miami-Dade County. Photograph taken on FNPS field trip at 2000 conference.

Hydric Hammock Poorly drained forested areas on sand/clay/organic soil, often over limestone. These range from central peninsular Florida northward. Fire is rare or absent. Characteristic species include water oak, cabbage palm, red cedar, red maple, bays, hackberry, hornbeam, blackgum, needle palm, and mixed hardwoods. Good examples can be found in the Richloam unit of the Withlacoochee State Forest.

Hydric Hammock - Bulow Woods State Park.

Prairie Hammock Poorly drained forested areas often surrounded by open prairies. Substrates may vary from sandy to organic soil over marl or limestone substrate. Most are in southern peninsular Florida. Fire is occasional or rare. Dominant species include live oak and/or cabbage palm. Prairie hammocks with no fire may support hand fern.

Hammock at Ft. Drum WMA.

Seepage Wetlands
Baygall, bayhead, forested seep slope Wetland with peat substrate at base of a slope and maintained by downslope seepage. Usually saturated and occasionally inundated. Fire is rare or absent. Characteristic vegetation includes bays and/or dahoon holly and/or red maple and/or mixed hardwoods.

Loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus) is a characteristic species of baygalls

Savanna, wet prairie Broad, open wet flatlands. Characterized by sand substrate; seasonally inundated; annual or frequent fire; beakrush, spikerush, wiregrass, pitcher plants, St. John's wort, mixed herbs.

Pitcher plant savanna, Apalachicola National Forest.



Wet prairie, Big Cypress National Preserve.

Moving Water Wetlands
Strand Swamp Broad, shallow channel with peat over mineral substrate; seasonally inundated, flowing water; subtropical; occasional or rare fire; cypress and/or willow.

Some of the many plants growing in the understory at Corkscrew Swamp, the largest uncut strand swamp in southern Florida.

Slough Broad, shallow channel with peat over mineral substrate; seasonally inundated, flowing water; subtropical; occasional or rare fire; pop ash and/or pond apple or water lily.

Slough in Big Cypress National Preserve, Collier County.

Swale Broad, shallow channel with sand/peat substrate; seasonally inundated, flowing water; subtropical or temperate; frequent or occasional fire; sawgrass, maidencane, pickerelweed, and/or mixed emergents.

Swale - Kissimmee Prairie State Park

Floodplain Wetlands
Floodplain Forest Seasonally inundated forests on alluvial soils (sand, silt, clay or organic) Fire is rare or absent. Typical species include diamondleaf oak, overcup oak, water oak, swamp chestnut oak, cabbage palm, musclewood, blue palmetto, and switchcane.

Hillsborough River floodplain forest at Morris Bridge, Hillsborough County.

Floodplain Marsh Floodplain with organic/sand/alluvial substrate; seasonally inundated; subtropical; frequent or occasional fire; maidencane, pickerelweed, sagittaria spp., buttonbush, and mixed emergents.

Extensive floodplain marsh forming part of the upstream extent of the St. Johns River.

Floodplain Swamp Floodplain with organic/alluvial substrate; usually inundated; subtropical or temperate; rare or no fire; vegetation characterized by cypress, tupelo, black gum, and/or pop ash.

Chipola River floodplain at Florida Caverns State Park, Jackson County.


Floodplain swamp along the Hillsborough River near Tampa.

Basin Wetlands
Basin Marsh A seasonally-inundated marsh in a large peat-bottomed basin; seasonally inundated. Fire is a periodic occurrence and its absence can result in invasion by wetland trees. Typical vegetation includes sawgrass and/or cattail and/or buttonbush and/or mixed emergents.

The large Corkscrew Marsh (C.R.E.W. wetland) in Lee County.

Basin Swamp Swamp in large basin with peat substrate. These swamps are typically inundated for about 8-9 months. Fire is occasional or rare. Characteristic vegetation includes cypress, blackgum, bays and/or mixed hardwoods.

A dwarf cypress swamp in a large basin in Tate's Hell. Most basin swamps have full-sized trees. Photograph taken on FNPS field trip at the 2002 conference.

Flatwoods Pond, Depression Marsh Small rounded depression in sand substrate with peat accumulating toward center; seasonally inundated, still water; subtropical or temperate; frequent or occasional fire; maidencane, fire flag, pickerelweed, and mixed emergents, nearly monospecific concentric bands may be present.

Flatwoods Pond - Potts Preserve, Hernando County.

Cypress Dome, Dome Swamp Rounded depression in sand/limestone substrate with peat accumulating toward center; seasonally inundated, still water; subtropical or temperate; occasional or rare fire; cypress, blackgum, or bays, often tallest in center.

Interior of cypress dome in Big Cypress National Preserve, Collier County.

Rocklands
Pine Rockland Flatland with exposed limestone substrate; mesic-xeric; subtropical; frequent fire; south Florida slash pine, palms and/or hardwoods, and mixed grasses and herbs.

Pine rockland. Big Pine Key National Wildlife Refuge, Monroe County.

Rockland Hammock, Tropical Hammock Flatland with limestone substrate; mesic; subtropical; rare or no fire; mixed tropical hardwoods.

Rockland Hammock, Tropical Hammock - Curry Hammock, Monroe County.

Coastal Uplands
Beach Dune Active coastal dune with sand substrate; xeric; temperate or subtropical; occasional or rare fire; sea oats and/or mixed salt-spray tolerant grasses and herbs.

Beach dune with coastal grassland, St. George State Park.

Coastal Berm, Coastal Scrub, Coastal Strand Coastal Berm, Coastal Scrub, and Coastal Strand refer to low, shrubby, plant communities that develop on low dunes paralleling the coast. They are closer to the coast than forested communities. Generally the term "berm" is used for the first relatively stable communities next to the beach and strand refers to a relatively similar community that is denser and further inland but still stunted and not forested. These communities are not well differentiated. Typical plant communities include dense thickets of xerophytic plants including sea grape, prickly-pear cactus, poison ivy, Spanish bayonet, wax myrtle, salt myrtle, coral bean, saw palmetto, and other shrubs. The substrate is typically sand or a sand-shell mix. These plant communities occur along active coastlines with beaches.

Coastal strand in the Canaveral National Seashore near Titusville.

Coastal Grassland Coastal flatland with sand substrate; xeric-mesic; subtropical or temperate; occasional fire; grasses, herbs, and shrubs with or without slash pine and/or cabbage palm.

Coastal grassland on low dune at Merritt Island near Titusville.

Coastal Rock Barren Halophytic herbs and grasses along with cacti and stunted shrubs and trees growing on exposed limestone very close to the coast. Only small areas occur and those are said to be restricted to the Keys. However, a more temperate variant, characterized by species such as Baccharus angustifolia, occurs on exposed limestone on islands near Ozona.

Cactus and halophytic grasses in a coastal rock barren on Big Pine Key, Monroe County.

Maritime Hammock Maritime hammocks occur on raised areas near the coast. With climates strongly moderated by proximity to water, they typically support vegetation that seems more tropical than similar hammocks further inland. Soils are typically sandy. An anthropomorphic variant, the shell mound, has substrates derived from Indian shell middens and vegetation adapted to calcareous soils. Fire is rare or non-existant. Typical vegetation is a mixed hardwood or live oak forest.

Gumbo limbo in maritime hammock (tropical variant) on Buck Key, Lee County. Photograph taken on an FNPS field trip at the 2003 conference.

Coastal Wetlands
Freshwater Tidal Swamp These are forested river-mouth wetlands with organic to alluvial soils; They are inundated with freshwater in response to tidal cycles, but portions of these wetlands may get salt water incursions during extreme storm events. Fire is rare or absent. Typical species include cypress, bays, cabbage palm, gums and/or cedars.

Tidal swamp at Bulow Woods State Park, Flagler County. Photograph taken at low tide.

Saltmarsh Expansive intertidal or supratidal area occupied primarily by rooted, emergent vascular macrophytes (e.g., cordgrass, needlerush, sawgrass, saltwort, saltgrass and glasswort); may include various epiphytes and epifauna.

Saltmarsh at Little Talbot Island State Park.

Salterns, Salt Flats Areas inundated by storm serges or extremely high tides that then evaporate leaving super-saline substrates. Occupied predominantly by small succulent herbaceous species. There is also a variant occupied by dwarfed mangroves.

Salt flat in southern Hillsborough County.

Mangrove Swamp Intertidal rocky areas and supratidal area occupied primarily by woody vascular macrophytes; may include various epiphytes and epifauna. Characteristic species include red, white, and black mangrove and buttonwood.

Mangrove Swamp - Biscayne National Park, Miami-Dade County.

Flowing Water Systems
Seepage Stream Upper perennial or intermittent/seasonal watercourse characterized by clear to lightly colored water derived from shallow groundwater seepage. Few plants are found in these streams, but ferns and other moisture loving species are often growing along the edges.

Seepage Stream -- Morman Branch, Ocala National Forest.


A small seepage stream in Torreya State Park, Gadsden County. This stream originated from a steephead.

Spring Run Stream Perennial watercourse with deep aquifer headwaters and characterized by clear water, circumneutral pH. Species associated with spring run streams include Florida willow, spring-run spiderlily, and yellow waterlily.

Rock Springs Run, a spring-run stream in Orange County.



Spring Run Stream - Chassahowitzka.

Alluvial Stream Streams and rivers characterized by turbid water with suspended silt, clay, sand and small gravel. These streams generally have floodplains with natural levees, oxbow lakes, and other features characteristic of repeated stream erosion and deposition.

Florida's greatest alluvial river, the Appalachicola. Photograph taken at Appalachicola Bluffs and Ravines Preserve on an FNPS field trip during the 2002 conference. Some of the broad, forested allulvial floodplain can be seen in the background.

Blackwater Stream Perennial or intermittent/seasonal watercourse characterized by tea-colored water with a high content of particulate and dissolved organic matter derived from drainage through swamps and marshes; generally lacking an alluvial floodplain. The term "blackwawter" comes from tea-colored, acidic water.

Arbuckle Creek just downstream of Arbuckle Lake, Polk County.

Lakes and Ponds
Acidic, Low Nutrient Lakes These lakes are typically found in sandy uplands and get most of their water from surface water runoff, not a stream system. The water is typically clear.They may lose this character if surrounding areas are heavily fertile, used for animal husbandry, or developed. Vegetation is typically restricted to shallow areas and tends to be sparse.

Sandhill lake (Dry Lake) at Sand Hill Lakes Mitigation Bank, Washington County.


Sandhill lake at Gold Head Branch State Park showig a low water period for this high fluctuation lake.

Alkaline, Low Nutrient Lakes These lakes typically receive much of their water from groundwater or from small streams that receive little nutrient-rich runoff. The water is typically clear. Both submersed and emergent vegetation is characteristic. Examples include Lake Panasofskee (Citrus County).

Alkaline, Low Nutrient Lake, Lake Norris


Nymphaea mexicana is a species typically found in clear, groundwater-fed lakes.

Alkaline, Nutrient-rich Lakes These lakes typically have major inflows and outflows and the character of the water and vegetation usually reflect the high nutrient content. They may have deep peats and typically have broad vegetated zones near shore. Most would be considered to be eutrophic. Vegetation in shallow areas tends to be dense and to include such species as cattails. Given that the water is typically murky, emergent vegetation is characteristic. Examples include Lake Thonotosassa (Hillsborough County, Lake Okeechobee, and Lake Istokpoga (Highlands County).

Blue Cypress Lake on the upper St. Johns River.

All photographs by FNPS member Shirley Denton