On this page - Dry Prairie, Pine flat-woods, Pine Rockland, Scrub, Sandhill, Coastal Strand, Coastal Scrub, Hammocks


Ecosystems are interacting and inter-dependent communities made up of both living and non-living parts. ecosystems include the air, water, soil, and sunlight as well as all the biological (living) organisms present, from the simplest amoeba to the plants and more complex animals that are all a dynamic part of the system. There are no size limitation for ecosystems.


A habitat is simply the place that a plant or animal inhabits, the habitat has everything that particular plant or animal needs to survive and reproduce. Habitat names often reflect the dominant plant present. (i.e. Pine flat-woods, Cypress swamp.)

Florida has 81 separate and distinct plant and animal communities that exist within its various ecosystems. (Source - Florida Natural Areas Inventory FNAI.org)


Upland ecosystems include the hardwood forests in both the panhandle and peninsula, xeric pine forests, various scrub, dry prairie, rangeland and the rock-lands of the extreme southern tip of Florida.

Pine flat-woods

Slash pine, Long-leaf pine, Loblolly pine, Pond pine - Flat-woods are the most widespread ecosystems in Florida, occupying as much as 50% of Florida's land area. The topography of a flat-woods is low & relatively uniform, the soil is sandy, acidic, has very little organic content with an underlying layer of marl or hardpan that not only inhibits drainage, it also prevents deep moisture from coming to the surface soil layer resulting in alternating seasonal periods of flood and drought. The dominate pine canopy is open, allowing plenty of sunlight to reach under-story shrubs, herbs and grasses.

moist pine flatwoods Longleaf pine flatwoods

Saw palmetto, Wire grass, Fetter-bush, Tarflower, Gallberry, Blueberry, Broom sedge, Wax myrtle and St. Johns-wort are a few of the many herbs and shrubs common to various kinds of Pine flat-woods habitats.

When fire is suppressed in pine forests for long periods of time the likelihood of a catastrophic fire when the canopy and mature trees are killed is greatly increased. Habitat preservation is the reason for "prescribed burns" because without fire some ecosystems could not exist.

Dry Prairie

Large areas of native grass or shrub lands on dry, flat terrain which are subject to frequent fires, with trees occupying less than 15 percent of the area. Although classified as a Dry Prairie, the sandy, acidic soils often have a hard-pan substrate which impedes drainage resulting in periodic short term flooding during the rainy season.

A typical Dry prairie ecosystemDry prairie

Small depressions marshes, creeks and the occasional ephemeral ponds within the prairie also create an "Eco-tone" type of habitat resulting in a mix of plants from the two adjoining ecosystems sometimes including plants from neither. Many insects and small invertebrates, mammals and reptiles either reside here or visit these places regularly.

Vegetation consists of grasses, sedges, herbs, and shrubs with a less than 15% tree canopy present. Scattered pines, Sabal palms, Palmetto, Wax myrtle, Fetter-bush, Tarflower, Gallberry.

Sand pine scrub

Sand Pine and Oak scrub Sand pine and  Rosemary scrub

When sea levels were much higher than that of present day, sand ridges formed from deposited sediment washed to the sea from eroding mountains to the north. As the sea level receded these deposits became islands.

Plants colonized these islands, later as sea levels dropped further the Florida peninsula emerged the islands became the current day Florida Scrub

Since development has overtaken or fragmented much of the original scrub habitat, many of the plants & animals endemic to it are considered endangered, threatened or rare.

The two largest areas of remaining scrub are found on The Atlantic Coastal Ridge, which runs parallel and in close proximity to the east coast of Florida from northern St. Lucie county south to Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, ranges in height from 10 feet to well over 50 feet above sea level & the Lake Wales Ridge which extends from Lake and Orange counties in the north, south through Highlands county and ranges in height from 70 feet to over 300 feet above sea level at its highest point.

Some of the plants associated with Florida scrub include Chapmans oak, Sand Pine, Myrtle Oak, Scrub Oak, Scrub Holly, Florida Rosemary, Lichens & Mints.

Oak Scrub

Oak scrub ecosystem Lichens in sandy oak scrub

Found on deep, white sands where fire or clear cutting has removed the pine over-story. Common plants include Myrtle Oak, Chapman's Oak, Dwarf Live Oak, Scrub Holly, Hog Plum, Scrub Hickory, Florida Rosemary, Gopher Apple and Saw Palmetto. Areas of open white sand are frequent in this type of habitat.


Sandhill ecosystem Sandhill scrub

Areas of rolling terrain on deep, well-drained, white to yellow, sterile sands. A xeric plant community that depends on fire to maintain it's ecology. Sand pine, Long-leaf pine, Turkey oak and Bluejack oak, Wire grass, Partridge pea, Beggars tick, Milk pea, Queen's delight, herbaceous plants and grasses.

Coastal Strand / Dunes

Sandy, well drained soils along the coastline. From the open sands of the upper beach and the dune lines - inland to where more highly developed plant communities are found.

Beach morning glory, Railroad vine, Sea Oats, Saw Palmetto, Spanish Bayonet, Prickly Pear cactus, Sea grape, Cocoplum, Grey Nicker

Dune vegetation  Coastal Dunes

Pictures - Dune & Coastal Strand plants withstand a harsh environment. Sea Grape, Sea Oats, Coastal Sea Rocket, Railroad Vine, Bitter Panicgrass are some of the more common ones. They help stabilize the shifting sands and reduce erosion from wind and waves.

Coastal Scrub

Coastal scrub habitat located on Florida's east coast. Maritime Oak Hammock.

In Florida, Coastal scrub habitat occurs in scattered locations on Barrier islands, dunes and sand ridges on both the east and west coasts. This type of habitat is positioned between the dune line on the ocean side and maritime forest or mangroves on the landward side, it is characterized by the absence of a tree canopy with areas of open sand, dominate plants are low growing shrubs and herbs.

Plant life of Coastal scrub includes Saw & Bluestem palmetto, Seagrape, Prickly-pear cactus, Cocoplum (Chrysobalanus icaco), Shrub Verbena, Beach sunflower, Coontie, Nickerbean, Yucca.

Hardwood Hammock

Hardwood Hammocks are located from the coastal strand inland to wetlands, prairies and flat-woods and vary from Mesic (moist) to Xeric (dry) habitats.

Broadleaved evergreen and semi-deciduous species include Red maple, Mahogany, Gumbo limbo, Coco-plum, Florida elm, Holly, Marlberry, Mulberry and Southern Magnolia.

Hardwood hammocks provide habitat for a variety of epiphytic plants or "air plants", including native orchids and Spanish moss. Attached to the bark of a host tree and acquiring nutrients from rain water, the air and pockets of moisture in the bark of the host tree. Common on Oaks, Sabal palms and Cypress trees, these plants are not parasitic and usually do not harm the host tree.

Oak, Palm Hammock

Coastal strand, flat-woods, Bottom land forests, Prairies, margins of marshes and other wetlands.
Oak hammock Palm hammock
Under-story plants include vines, grasses, ferns and various herbaceous plants, which are determined primarily by the type of soil and available moisture.

Tropical Hardwood Hammock

South Florida in areas along coastal uplands, in the Florida Keys and tree islands within the Everglades where frost is a rare occurrence.

This ecosystem is home for over 100 varieties of trees and shrubs and marks the northern most range of many tropical plants, including many rare and endangered species.

Soils types include shell, sand and limestone. Today, due to development of coastal areas this habitat is found only as scattered remnants in nature preserves.

Strangler fig, Gumbo-Limbo, Live-Oak, Mastic, Bustic, Lancewood, Ironwood, Poisonwood, Pigeon plum, Jamaica dogwood, Bahama lysiloma, Mahogany, Thatch palms and Manchineel.

Pine Rockland

Found on the Miami Ridge extending to the southwest in to the Florida Keys, also occurs on the southwest side of the state in the Big Cypress swamp area. This habitat is based on a limestone substrate covered with a thin layer of sand and organic detritus outcroppings of limestone

Characteristic plant species are South Florida slash pine, Christmas berry, Maidenhair pine-land fern, Florida silver palm & Florida white-top sedge. Pine rockland are home to many rare and endemic plants, including 18 that are endemic to this habitat. South Florida slash pine canopy that is open and allows ample light to the ground to support over 100 species of palms and hardwoods as well as a large variety of herbaceous plants and ferns. These are mostly scattered in patches, dependent on the amour of soil present.