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|Everglades National Park (4)|
The subtropical climate and abundant summer moisture of southern Florida supports rich vegetation in the glades. There are 100 species of seed bearing plants in the park and 120 species of trees. Many plants in the Everglades are found nowhere else on earth.
One of the most significant plants in the ecology of the glades is the mangrove family. The Everglades contain the greatest mangrove forest in North America. One member of the family, the red mangrove, is seen below along the shores of West Lake. One of the red mangrove's critical functions is its role in stabilizing the shoreline with its roots.
The red mangrove is usually found along the shore. The water around the base of the trees is often stained brown, a side effect of the tannin contained in the green, waxy leaves which fall into the water gradually throughout the year. Red mangrove bark is used to tan leather.
The most distinct and recognizable feature of the red mangrove is its stilt-like root system. The tree is sometimes known as the "walking mangrove" as the roots resemble legs in the water. The red mangrove also reproduces by dropping "propagules" which can take root and start a new tree.
This closeup of the the mangrove "legs" shows just how tangled the mangrove forest can become and why it is called a "mangle." The mangrove begins to grow these "prop" roots after a couple of years. Although the roots themselves may only penetrate a few inches into the in the soft mud in which it usually grows they hold the tree upright and keep it steady in hurricane winds which it eventually faces.
In addition to its role building and anchoring land, the red mangrove is also crucial to the Everglades ecosystem as a nursery for crustaceans and invertebrates. Mangrove swamps are among the most productive natural communities on the plant.
Mangroves have been seriously affected by the hurricanes which have ravished the Everglades area in this century. At one time, some mangrove forests reach 100 feet in height before the effects of the high winds destroyed many of these trees. The area has suffered through at least 4 extremely powerful hurricanes in this century: the Labor Day Hurricane (1935), Donna (1960), Betsy (1965), and Andrew (1962). The last two hurricanes damaged the park. Hurricanes defoliate mangroves and also kill them by dumping harmful silt on the root system. Mangroves are also vulnerable to cold weather and may be killed by infrequent freezes which may occur in parts of Florida.
A second member of the mangrove family found in the Everglades is the black mangrove. This tree is readily identifiable because of its characteristic pneumatophores or "breathing tubes" (shown in the center of the picture) which reach up through the water. These tubes exchange gas with the air surrounding the tree and avoid the toxins which accumulate in the mud in which it grows. The black mangrove generally flourishes at levels which are covered by high tides but exposed at low tides.
Another of the plants often associated with the Everglades is the bald cypress. This plant is especially characteristic of the Big Cypress National Preserve.
The variety of Cypress found most often in Everglades National Park proper is the dwarf cypress, shown below. The diminutive size of these trees is due to the nutrient-poor soil in which they grow. As such, the tree can be a little misleading; although small, some of these trees may be more than 100 years old. The cypress tree usually develops in sloughs or low points (potholes) in the limestone base where marl has accumulated.
The gumbo limbo is another tree found in the park, particularly in the hardwood hammocks. The tree is also called the "tourist tree" because its red, peeling bark is not unlike the skin of many tourists unprepared for the hot sun of south Florida.
These specimens shown below are found along the gumbo limbo trail near Royal Palm.
Here is another specimen of the gumbo limbo.
Several varieties of palm can be found in the park. This tree sits in the sawgrass marsh in the Chekika section in the eastern portion of the park.
The saw palmetto is often found on the floor of the slash pine woods.
Not all of the plants in the national park are native. There are a large number of "exotics" which have been introduced by man and have flourished, sometimes crowding out the native species. One example of this type of plant is the Brazilian pepper, a member of the poison ivy family, with its characteristic red berries.
This tree was originally introduced into Florida as an ornamental but has escaped into the wild and now crowds out native species and negatively affects the feeding habitat of many birds. It quickly colonizes an area where the ground has been disturbed. The seeds are spread by birds who eat the berry-like fruit of the tree, below.
The trees themselves support a wide variety of animals as well as epithytes, plants which live on other plants but don't harm them in any way. One example is Spanish moss (shown below), found throughout Florida. Spanish moss, a bromeliad, is actually a string of small plants connected by a stem.
Another plant which uses a tree as a host is less harmless. The strangler fig, a member of the rubber family (shown below), takes root on a host tree when its seed is dropped on a trunk after passing through a bird which had ingested its fruit. The fig takes run, spreads its roots around the host tree, cuts off the host's sunlight, constricts its vascular system, and eventually kills it.
One of the most common plants in many national parks is the fern, and the Everglades is no exception. Several varieties grow in the park.
The spatterdock or yellow pond lily can be found in many of the sloughs and other bodies of water.
The bloom of the plant is very colorful and attractive.
There are a wide variety of flowering plants in the park, and it is especially beautiful at the beginning of the wet season when many of them bloom.
Wildflowers are abundant in the park even during the dry season.
This yellow wildflower is quite beautiful.
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- All photographs ©Patrick Holleran, Shannon Digital Imaging, 1994-2012
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