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Ecosystems of south Florida

Freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems

Palmetto and dry prairies

History of the Study
Regional System
- Freshwater
and Terrestrial

  -  System relations
  -  Effects of man
  -  Canals & lakes
  -  Ponds & sloughs
  -  Sawgrass marsh
  -  Wet prairies
  -  Pine forests
  -  Cypress forests
  -  Mixed swamp forests
  -  Bay heads
  -  Hardwood hammocks
  >  Palmetto & dry prairies
- Coastal
- Man-dominated
Hydrologic Systems
Final Word
PDF version
Palmetto and dry prairies occur primarily in the northern Big Cypress Swamp and to the north and northeast in the Eastern and Western Flatlands (Davis, 1943). In the flatlands, numerous small areas of prairies are scattered through the pine forests. In the northern Big Cypress Swamp, a large area of prairie lies east of Immokalee.

Palmetto and dry prairies occur on relatively high, well-drained, sandy soil that is seldom flooded. Depressions or potholes are common, and these hold water seasonally. Characteristic plants are saw palmetto, beardgrass, gallberry, wiregrass, and carpetgrass. Pine trees and cabbage palms are sometimes widely scattered. However, cabbage-palm hammocks occur where sands are underlain by calcareous materials that tend to make soils neutral or alkaline. Cabbage palms are not common in acidic sandy soil (Davis, 1943).

photograph of a palmetto prairie
(above) Palmetto prairie in southwest Florida. [larger image]
map showing location of the Western Flatlands along the west coast of Florida and photo inset of a palmetto prairie
FIGURE 14. (above) The Western Flatlands and the west coast. [larger image]
Numerous swamps, marshes, and wet prairies are scattered in depressions through the dry prairies. The depressions are usually smaller than an acre or two and nearly circular. Typically, the water is deepest in the center. Wet prairies form an outer zone or ring that typically grades into ponds or deep-water marshes in the center of the depression. Some depressions are large and elongate. The Okaloacoochee and Twelvemile Sloughs and Corkscrew Marsh are examples.

Animals of the palmetto and dry prairies are similar to those of the pine lands. A few notable exceptions specifically characteristic of the dry prairies are the Florida burrowing owl, Audubon's caracara, and the Florida grasshopper sparrow (Rodgers and Crowder, 1974).

Palmetto and dry prairies are used as pasture and farmland and more recently for residential development. About 50 percent of these systems have been destroyed (Birnhak and Crowder, 1974). Although the vegetational features of the flatlands are still recognizable, as described by Davis (1943), they are frequently marked by levees and drainage ditches, farm and pasture land, and citrus groves (Alexander and Crook, 1973). Exotic plants are a threat to the remaining dry prairie system. Cajeput, in particular, is invading the Eastern and Western Flatlands (fig. 14), encroaching into dry prairies as well as the associated pine forests, marshes, and swamps (Alexander and Crook, 1973).

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Last updated: 04 September, 2013 @ 02:04 PM (KP)