Woodlands Habitats - Titusville, Florida
Enchanted Forest Nature Sanctuary
444 Columbia Blvd., Titusville Florida 32780
Forest Communities of East Central Florida: Xeric Hammocks, Pine Flatwoods, and Mesic Hammocks
Paul A. Schmalzer, Plant Ecologist, Dynamac Corporation, Kennedy Space Center, FL
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.
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 (Serenoa repens)
- Gallberry Holly (Ilex glabra)
- Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida)
- Staggerbush (Lyonia fruticosa)
- Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera)
- Dwarf Huckleberry (Gaylussacia dumosa)
- Tarflower (Befaria racemosa)
Common herbs include wiregrass (Aristida stricta) and numerous species in the Asteracea (aster family), Fabaceae (pea family), and others, particularly if sites have been burned periodically.
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.
Many animal species occur in flatwoods. Numerous birds occur. Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) use large pines as nest sites. Gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus) occur, as do other species that use their burrows such as the indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi). Small mammals occur, and larger mammals such as white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) and bobcat (Felix rufus) use flatwoods.
Fire in Flatwoods
Fire is important in the ecology of flatwoods. All types of flatwoods vegetation burn periodically. Fires were more frequent in flatwoods than in scrub. Mesic flatwoods probably burned more often than scrubby flatwoods. Plants and animals native to flatwoods are adapted to surviving fire. Nearly all flatwoods shrubs sprout after fire, as do grasses and most herbs. Wiregrass flowers and sets seeds abundantly only if it is burned in the growing season.
Flatwoods pines vary in fire resistance. Longleaf pine is fire tolerant when mature and in most juvenile stages. South Florida slash pine is relatively fire tolerant when mature, although probably less so than longleaf pine Young slash pine are less fire resistant than longleaf pine. Pond pine is one of a few pines that sprout epicormically (from branches or the trunk) after fire. Historically, fires killed some pine trees. Flatwoods in Florida were open, savanna-like communities, not dense forests. Many of the species dependent on flatwoods require open communities and decline or disappear if trees become too dense. Where fires have been suppressed, pine tree density often increases.
Hammock is a term used in Florida for closed canopy forests where the most important species are broad-leaved, evergreen trees. These forests occur on a variety of sites, and xeric hammocks have already been described. On mesic (moist) or wet (hydric) sites different types of hammocks occur, and the trees reach much larger size. The "Enchanted Forest" of the Enchanted Forest Sanctuary is a well developed mesic and hydric hammock.
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 (including the Enchanted Forest) 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)
- Myrsine (Myrsine cubana)
- 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.
Mesic (moist) Hammock Trail.
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