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On this Page - Freshwater Marshes, Salt Marsh, Wet Prairie, Hardwood Swamp, Cypress Swamp, Mangrove Swamp, Bay Swamp

Wetlands

Areas that are inundated or have saturated soils for long enough periods of time to support plants which are able to grow and reproduce in flooded conditions and/or saturated soils. A healthy wetland ecosystem supports an amazing array of birds, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles & fish, as well as plant life, providing life sustaining food and shelter for all.

Wetlands often form in low lying areas such as depressions or sloughs when the groundwater level is at or above the surface of the surrounding landscape, or where there is an underlying strata of "hard-pan" which slows drainage enough to create flooded conditions.

The length of time that these wetlands remain flooded is referred to as the hydro-period. Hydro-periods vary in length and may be as brief as a couple of weeks or as long as a year or more. Some wetlands never dry out completely while others dry out only every few years, or during periods of extreme drought.

Florida's aquatic freshwater and marine life, including many commercial and sport fishes depend on these marshes and swamps for feeding grounds and nurseries for their young. Florida's wetlands also provide outstanding recreational opportunities for boating, fishing, photography and bird watching.

Originally covering about 60 percent of the states landmass wetlands have been reduced by drainage and subsequent development to less than half of that - this affects not only plants and animals, it also severely diminishes the human populations water supply, as those wetlands (i.e. swamps, marshes, ponds, lakes and river floodplains) hold, filter and slowly release the huge amounts of rainwater into the aquifers that are central and southern Florida's sole fresh water source.

Everglades National Park is a 1.5-million-acre wetland in south Florida that historically stretched as far north as Lake Okeechobee, water from the Kissimmee river flowed south into the lake and then continued flowing south of the lake in to the Everglades. This was a main source of life sustaining water that supplied the Everglades ecosystem.

(Florida has lost over 40% of its wetlands since becoming a state, many remaining wetlands are small remnants of what were once much larger contiguous ecosystems.)

Mangrove Forests & Swamps

Found worldwide from approximately 25 to 28 degrees north and south latitudes, Mangroves forests are comprised of 70 or so species which have adapted to life on the protected shorelines of marine estuaries and bays.

Red, Black, and White Mangroves are the three species of Mangrove that grow in Florida. Plants associated with Mangroves include Buttonwood, Saltwort, Glasswort, Christmas berry, Sea-blite & Salt marsh cordgrass.

Mangrove swamp low tide mangroves

In Florida, mangroves grow south of the frost line with the highest concentrations of trees found further south. The Ten-thousand Islands on the S.W. Florida coast is made up of hundreds of Mangrove islets and is a popular destination for fishermen and birdwatchers alike.

Mangroves are a critical habitat and feeding ground for over 120 animal species. The Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Pelican and several varieties of Herons all use the mangroves for hunting, nesting and/or roosting.

Blue claw, Fiddler and Mangrove crabs, shrimps, corals, sponges, oysters, seahorses and a host of other marine invertebrates also call the mangroves home, the roots of the red mangrove provide critical breeding and hatcheries for all these and more.


Wet Prairie

Florida's "Wet Prairie" is a seasonally flooded, shallow freshwater marsh found in woodland depressions, sloughs, finger glades & on the floodplains or margins of lakes, streams and rivers. Even in the dry season when little or no water may be visable on the surface, the soil is saturated and . In South Florida wet prairie occurs ajacent to wet flatwoods, mixed with marshes that do hold water in the dry season providing a refuge for fish, turtles, alligators, other reptiles & amphibians - scattered "tree islands" may also be present.

A dry prairie ecosystemdry prairie Wet prairie

Some of the plants common to Wet Prairies include St. John's Wort, Sedges, Muhly grass, Saw-grass, Groundsel bush, Wax Myrtle, Sun-dew, Meadow-beauty, Marsh-pinks & Coreopsis species

Depression Marsh

Marsh during the wet season Marsh during the dry season

Pictured above - Flooded in the wet season (L), during drought the shallow marsh bottom is exposed to the sun and air (R), helping to oxidize plant matter or any other detritus that has accumulated during the wet season, natures way of cleaning house...

Below - A small Depression marsh and ephemeral pond within a wet flatwoods.
In South Florida the wet flat-woods are dotted with these short lived ponds and pools of water, even the so called dry flat-woods can become flooded during the rainy season.

Depression marsh in wet flatwoods Depression marsh

Wetlands and the unique "eco-tone" between them and ajoining eco-systems are often host to a wider varity of species than the surrounding areas.


Swamps

Cypress Strand, Cypress Dome

Cypress dome Cypress understory plants and cypress knees

Dominated by Bald cypress, sometimes with a mix of other hardwood trees. The length of time that Cypress stays flooded determines what under-story plants are present. In addition to the mosses,ferns and epiphytic or "air plants" that grow everywhere among the Cypress, there may be aquatic, emergent and herbaceous plant species present.

A cypress dome is named for it's shape with taller trees in the center and smaller, younger trees on the perimeter. Strands usually follow a slough resulting in the strand shape, which is longer than it is wide.
the margins of cypress domes and strands generally support a much higher number of plant species than the interior, often transitioning into a wet prairie or wet flat-woods type ecosystem.

Hardwood Swamps

A canopy of various hardwood trees or a mixture of hardwoods and cypress. This type of habitat occurs on floodplains or upland areas that are lower than the surrounding area.

Margin of a hardwood swamp Hardwood swamp understory plants Floodplain swamp

Associated trees and plants include Ash, Water hickory, Cypress, Holly, Maples, Oaks, Sable palms and Bay trees, often with a dense under-story of vines, ferns and various herbaceous plants.