Native Plant Communities


Plant Communities are part of ecosystems. Ecosystems are generally classified in accordance with major environmental factors which include the following:

  • Climate
  • Geology
  • Topography and Physiographic Position
  • Soil
  • Drainage
  • Disturbance Regime (such as fire frequency)
  • Biota (insects, fungi, decomposers, wildlife, etc.)
  • Plants
  • Biogeography (history including plate techtonics, ice ages, humans, etc.).

These interact together, each influencing the others. They tend to occur in repeating units in the landscape, but are not necessarily stable in composition or function over time. They should not be thought of as super-organisms, but nor or they plants occurring in isolation simply responding to physical environmental gradients.

This classification largely uses the terminology of the FNAI. However, classifications are human constructs -- there are many different classifications of Florida ecosystems, and the "right" classification is the one that serves the needs of the classifier.

Similar to FNAI, the order of presentation on this site is based largely on topography and drainage. Ecosystems lacking plants are not included, and open water systems are based largely on water movement and source which have major influences on the plant communities present.

Xeric (Very Dry) 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.


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 (Moderately Dry) 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 (moist) 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, Myakka River State Park, and the Avon Park Bombing Range.

Dry Prairie at Kissimmee Prairie State park.


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.

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. Prairie Hammocks are common near the St. Johns River.

Hammock at Ft. Drum WMA.

Seepage Wetlands

Baygall, Forested Seep Slope

Wetland with peat substrate at base of a slope and maintained by downslope seepage, typically from a sandy hill. Usually saturated and occasionally inundated. Fire is rare or absent. Soils are typically very acidic leading to nutrient limitation for most deciduous species and favoring evergreen trees and ericaceous shrubs. 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.

Slow 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. I

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


Flatland with marl over limestone substrate; seasonally inundated; tropical; frequent to no fire; sawgrass, spikerush, and/or mixed grasses, sometimes with dwarf cypress.Broad, shallow channel with peat over mineral substrate; seasonally inundated, flowing water; subtropical; occasional or rare fire; cypress and/or willow.

Slough in Big Cypress National Preserve, Collier County.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

Stillwater Systems (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.


The majority of these references were written by members of the Florida Native Plant Society!. Thanks to all of them for their contributions to native plant ecology in Florida.

Austin, Daniel F.; Jones, Julie L.; and Bennett, Bradley C.. 1986 (Summer). The Fakahatchee Strand. 6, #2:3-6.

Batista, W.B., and W.J. Platt. 1997. An old-growth definition for southern mixed hardwood forests. General Technical Report SRS-9. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. Southern Research Station, Asheville, North Carolina.

Bradley, K., and G. Gann. 1999. The pine rockland forests of southern Florida. The Palmetto 19:12-19.

Clewell, A.F. 1986. Natural setting and vegetation of the Florida Panhandle - An account of the environments and plant communities of northern Florida west of the Suwannee River. Report No. COESAM/PDEI-86/001. United States Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, Alabama.

Daubenmire, R. 1990. The Magnolia grandiflora-Quercus virginiana forest of Florida. American Midland Naturalist 123:331-347.

Delcourt, H.R., and P.A. Delcourt. 1977. Presettlement magnolia-beech climax of the Gulf Coastal Plain: quantitative evidence from the Apalachicola River Bluffs, North-Central Florida. Ecology 58:1085-1093.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection. 1992. Soil and Water Relationships of Florida's Ecological Communities

Duever, L.C. 1986. Florida's Natural Communities: Overwash Plains and Coastal Berms. The Palmetto 6:10-11.

Duever, Linda. 1984 (February). Florida's Natural Communities: Seepage Communities. The Palmetto 4, #1:1-2, 10-11.

Duever, Linda. 1988 (Summer). Florida's Natural Communities: Mesic Hammock. The Palmetto 8, #2:4-5.

Duever, Linda. 1983 (November). Florida's Natural Communities: Coastal Dunes. The Palmetto 3, #4:4-5.

Duever, Linda. 1985-86 (Winter). Florida's Natural Communities: Coastal Mounds. The Palmetto 5, #4:15.

Duever, Linda. 1985 (Spring). Florida's Natural Communities: Cypress Swamps. The Palmetto 5, #1:4-5.

Duever, Linda. 1984-85 (Winter). Florida's Natural Communities: Flatwoods. The Palmetto 4, #4:6.

Duever, Linda. 1984 (September). Florida's Natural Communities: Floodplains. The Palmetto 4, #3:8-10.

Duever, Linda. 1983 (August). Florida's Natural Communities: Inland Sand Ridges. The Palmetto 3, #3:1-3, 10.

Duever, Linda. 1984 (April). Florida's Natural Communities: Rocklands. The Palmetto 4, #2:8-11.

Duever, Linda. 1987 (Summer-Fall). Florida's Natural Communities: Wet Prairies. The Palmetto 7, #2:6-7.

Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI). 2010. Guide to the natural communities of Florida: 2010 edition. Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Tallahassee, FL.

Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI) and Florida Department of Natural Resources. 1990. Guide to the natural communities of Florida: 2010 edition. Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Tallahassee, FL.

Gann, G.D., K.A. Bradley, and S.W. Woodmansee. 2009. Floristic Inventory of South Florida Database. Institute for Regional Conservation.

Guerin, D.N. 1993. Oak dome clonal structure and fire ecology in a Florida longleaf pine dominated community. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 120:107-114.

Laessle, A.M. 1958. The origin and successional relationship of sandhill vegetation and sand-pine scrub. Ecological Monographs 28:361-387.

Loope, L.L., D.W. Black, S. Black, and G.N. Avery. 1979. Distribution and abundance of flora in limestone rockland pine forests of southeastern Florida. South Florida Research Center, Everglades National Park, Homestead, Florida.

Myers, R.L. and J.J. Ewel (eds.). 1990. Ecosystems of Florida University of Central Florida Press: Orlando.

Outcalt, K.W. 1997. An old-growth definition for tropical and subtropical forests in Florida. General Technical Report SRS-013. United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Asheville, North Carolina.

Peet, R.K., and D.J. Allard. 1993. Longleaf pine vegetation of the southern Atlantic and eastern Gulf Coast regions: a preliminary classification. Pages 45-82 in S.M. Hermann, editor. The Longleaf Pine Ecosystem: Ecology, Restoration and Management. Proceedings of the Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference, No. 23. Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, Florida.

Schiffer, Donna M. Hydrology of central Florida lakes : a Primer. U.S. Geological SurveyCircular 1137.

Simons, R.W. 1990. Terrestrial and freshwater habitats. Pages 99-157 in S.H. Wolfe, editor. An ecological characterization of the Florida Springs Coast: Pithlachascotee to Waccasassa Rivers. Biological Report 90(21). United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, DC.

USDA Soil Conservation Service. 198_. 26 Ecological Communities of Florida.

Whitney, E.N., D. B. Means, A. Rudloe. 2004. Priceless Florida: Natural Ecosystems and Native Species. Pineapple Press.