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Florida Ecological Restoration Inventory

FWCC Land Cover/Habitat Classifications

Upland Plant Communities Wetland Plant Communities Aquatic Disturbed

Coastal Strand

The coastal strand occurs on well drained sandy soils and includes the typically zoned vegetation of the upper beach, nearby dunes, or coastal rock formations. This community generally occurs in a long, narrow band parallel to the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico, and along the shores of some saline bays or sounds in both north and south Florida. This community occupies areas formed along high energy shorelines, and is strongly affected by wind, waves, and salt spray. Vegetation within this community typically consists of low growing vines, grasses, and herbaceous plants with very few small trees or large shrubs. Pioneer or early successional herbaceous vegetation characterizes the foredune and upper beach, while a gradual change to woody plant species occurs in more protected areas landward. Typical plant species include beach morning glory, railroad vine, sea oats, saw palmetto, spanish bayonet, yaupon holly, wax myrtle, along with sea grape, cocoplum, and other tropicals in southern Florida. The coastal strand community only includes the zone of early successional vegetation which lies between the upper beach, and more highly developed communities landward. Adjacent or contiguous community types such as xeric oak scrubs, pinelands, or hardwood forests would therefore be classified and mapped respectively.

Dry Praires

Dry prairies are large native grass and shrublands occurring on very flat terrain interspersed with scattered cypress domes and strands, bayheads, isolated freshwater marshes, and hardwood hammocks. This community is characterized by many species of grasses, sedges, herbs, and shrubs, including saw palmetto, fetterbush, staggerbush, tar flower, gallberry, blueberry, wiregrass, carpet grasses, and varous bluestems. The largest areas of these treeless plains historically occurred just north of Lake Okeechobee, and they were subject to annual or frequent fires. Many of these areas have been converted to improved pasture. In central and south Florida, palmetto prairies, which consist of former pine flatwoods where the overstory trees have been thinned or removed, are also included in this category. These sites contain highly scattered pines which cover less than 10 to 15 percent of an area.


The pinelands category includes north and south Florida pine flatwoods, south Florida Pine rocklands, and commercial pine plantations. Pine flatwoods occur on flat sandy terrain where the overstory is characterized by longleaf pine, slash pine, or pond pine. Generally, flatwoods dominated by longleaf pine occur on well-drained sites, while pond pine is found in poorly drained areas, and slash pine occupies intermediate or moderately moist areas. The understory and groundcover within these three communities are somewhat similar and include several common species such as saw palmetto, gallberry, wax myrtle, and a wide variety of grasses and herbs. Generally wiregrass and runner oak dominate longleaf pine sites, fetterbush and bay trees are found in pond pine areas, while saw palmetto, gallberry, and rusty lyonia occupy slash pine flatwoods sites. Cypress domes, bayheads, titi swamps, and freshwater marshes are commonly interspersed in isolated depressions throughout this community type, and fire is a major disturbance factor. An additional pine flatwoods forest type occurs in extreme south Florida on rocklands where the overstory is the south Florida variety of slash pine, and tropical hardwood species occur in the understory. Scrubby flatwoods is another pineland type which occurs on drier ridges, and on or near old coastal dunes. Longleaf pine or slash pine dominate the overstory, while the groundcover is similar to the xeric oak scrub community. Commercial pine plantations are also reluctantly included in the pinelands association. This class includes predominately planted slash pine, although longleaf pine and loblolly pine tracts also occur. Sandpine plantations, which have been planted on severely site prepared sandhill sites in the north Florida pandhandle, are also included in this category. An acceptable accurate separation of areas of densely stocked native flatwoods and older planted pine stand with a closed canopy was not consistently possible.

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Sand Pine Scrub

Sand pine scrub occurs on extremely well-drained, sorted, sterile sands deposited along former shorelines and islands of ancient seas. This xeric plant community is dominated by an overstory of sand pine and has an understory of myrtle oak, Chapman's oak, sand-live oak, and scrub holly. Ground cover is usually sparse to absent, especially in mature stands, and rosemary and lichens occur in some open areas. Sites within the Ocala National Forest which have an overstory of direct seeded sand pine, and an intact understory of characteristic xeric scrub oaks, are also included in this category. Fire is an important ecological management tool, and commonly results in even-aged stands within regenerated sites. The distribution of this community type is almost entirely restricted to within the state of Florida.


Sandhill communities occur in areas of rolling terrain on deep, well-drained, white to yellow, sterile sands. This xeric community is dominated by an overstory of scattered longleaf pine, along with an understory of turkey oak and bluejack oak. The park-like ground cover consists of various grasses and herbs, including wiregrass, partridge pea, beggars tick, milk pea, queen's delight, and others. Fire is an important factor in controlling hardwood competition and other ascpects of sandhill ecology. Although many of these sites thoughout the state have been modified through the selective or severe cutting of longleaf pine, these areas are still included in the sandhill category.

Xeric Oak Scrub

Xeric oak scrub is a xeric hardwood community typically consisting of clumped patches of low growing oaks interspersed with bare areas of white sand. This community occurs on areas of deep, well-washed, sterile sands, and it is the same understory complex of scrubby oaks and other ground cover species that occurs in the sand pine scrub community. This condition frequently occurs when the short time periods between severe fires results in the complete removal of sand pine as an overstory species. Also included in this category are sites within the Ocala National Forest which have been clearcut, and are sometimes dominated during the first one to five years by the xeric oak scrub association. The xeric oak scrub community is dominated by myrtle oak, Chapman's oak, sand-live oak, scrub holly, scrub plum, scrub hickory, rosemary, and saw palmetto. Fire is important in setting back plant succession and maintaining viable oak scrubs.

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Mixed Hardwood Pine Forests

This community is the southern extension of the Piedmont southern mixed hardwoods, and occurs mainly on the clay soils on the northern Pandhandle. Younger stands may be predominantly pines, while a complex of various hardwoods become co-dominants as the system matures over time through plant succession. The overstory consists of shortleaf and loblolly pine, American beech, mockernut hickory, southern red oak, water oak, American holly, and dogwood. Also included in this category are other upland forests that occur statewide which contain a mixture of conifers and hardwoods as the co-dominant overstory component. These communities contain longleaf pine, slash pine, and loblolly pine in mixed association with live oak, laurel oak, and water oak, together with other hardwood species characteristic of the upland hardwood hammocks and forests class.

Hardwood Hammocks and Forests

Upland Hardwood Forests): This class includes the major upland hardwood associations that occur statewide on fairly rich sandy soils. Variations in species composition, and the local or spatial distributions of these communities are due in part to differences in soil moisture regimes, soil type, and geographic location within the state. The major variations within this association are mesic hammocks, xeric hammocks, coastal and hydric hammocks, and live oak or cabbage palm hammocks. The mesic hammock community represents the climax vegetation type within many areas of northern and central Florida. Characteristic species in the extreme north include American beech, southern magnolia, Shumard oak, white oak, mockernut hickory, pignut hickory, sourgum, basswood, white ash, mulberry, and spruce pine. Mesic hammocks of the peninsula are less diverse due to the absence of hardwood species which are adapted to more northerly climates, and are characterized by laurel oak, hop hornbeam, blue beech, sweetgum, cabbage palm, American holly, and southern magnolia. Xeric hammocks occur on deep, well-drained, sandy soils where fire has been absent for long periods of time. These open, dry hammocks contain live oak, sand-live oak, bluejack oak, blackjack oak, southern red oak, sand-post oak, and pignut hickory. Coastal and hydric hammocks are relatively wet hardwood forests that are found between uplands and true wetlands. These sometimes seasonally wet forests are associated with some non-alluvial peninsula streams, scattered broad lowlands, and are also found in a narrow band along parts of the Gulf and Atlantic coasts where they often extend to the edge of coastal salt marshes. These communities contain water oak, red maple, Florida elm, cabbage palm, red cedar, blue-beech, and sweetgum. Live oak and cabbage palm hammocks are often found bordering large lakes and rivers, and are distributed throughout the prairie region of south central Florida and extend northward in the St. John's River basin. These communities may occur as mixed stands of oak and palm, or one of these species can completely dominate an area.

Tropical Hardwood Hammock

These upland hardwood forests occur in extreme south Florida and are characterized by tree and shrub species on the northern edge of a range which extends southward into the Caribbean. These communities are sparsely distributed along coastal uplands south of a line from about Vero Beach on the Atlantic coast to Sarasota on the Gulf coast. They occur on many tree islands in the Everglades and on uplands throughout the Florida Keys. This cold-intolerant tropical community has very high plant species diversity, sometimes containing over 35 species of trees and about 65 species of shrubs. Characteristic tropical plants include strangler fig, gumbo-limbo, mastic, bustic, lancewood, ironwoods, poisonwood, pigeon plum, Jamaica dogwood, and Bahama lysiloma. Live oak and cabbage palm are also sometimes found within this community. Tropical hammocks in the Florida keys may also contain several plants, including lignum vitae, mahogany, thatch palms and manchineel, which are extremely rare within the United States.

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Coastal Salt Marshes

These herbaceous and shrubby wetland communities occur statewide in brackish waters along protected low energy estuarine shorelines of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The largest continuous areas of salt marsh occur north of the range of mangroves, and border tidal creeks, bays and sounds. Salt marshes are sometimes interspersed within mangrove areas, and also occur as a transition zone between freshwater marshes and mangrove forests such as in the Ten Thousand Islands area along the southwest Florida coast. Plant distribution within salt marshes is largely dependent on the degree of tidal inundation, and many large areas are completely dominated by one species. Generally, smooth cordgrass typically occupies the lowest elevations immediately adjacent to tidal creeks and pools, while black needlerush dominates less frequently inundated zones. The highest elevations form transitional areas characterized by glasswort, saltwort, saltgrass, sea ox-eye daisy, marsh elder, and saltbush. For the purposes of this project, cordgrass, needlerush, and transitional or high salt marshes are collectively mapped as this single category.

Freshwater Marsh and Wet Prairie

These wetland communities are dominated by a wide assortment of herbaceous plant species growing on sand, clay, marl, and organic soils in areas of variable water depths and inundation regimes. Generally, freshwater marshes occur in deeper, more strongly inundated situations and are characterized by tall emergents, and floating leafed species. Freshwater marshes occur within depressions, along broad, shallow lake and river shorelines, and are scattered in open areas within hardwood and cypress swamps. Also, other portions of freshwater lakes, rivers, and canals which are dominated by floating-leaved plants such as lotus, spatterdock, duck weed, and water hyancinths are included in this category. Wet prairies commonly occur in shallow, periodically inundated areas and are usually dominated by aquatic grasses, sedges, and their associates. Wet prairies occur as scattered, shallow depressions within dry prairie areas and on marl prairie areas in south Florida. Also included in this category are areas in Southwest Florida with scattered dwarf cypress having less than 20 percent canopy coverage, and a dense groundcover of freshwater marsh plants. Marshes and wet prairies are dominated by various combinations of pickerel weed, sawgrass, maidencane, arrowhead, fire flag, cattail, spike rush, bulrush, white water lily, water shield, and various sedges. Many marsh or wet prairie types, such as sawgrass marsh or maidencane prairie, have been described and so-named based on their dominant plant species.

Cypress Swamp

These regularly inundated wetlands form a forested border along large rivers, creeks, and lakes, or occur in depressions as circular domes or linear strands. These communities are strongly dominated by either bald cypress or pond cypress, with very low numbers of scattered black gum, red maple, and sweetbay. Understory and ground cover are usually sparse due to frequent flooding but sometimes include such species as buttonbush, lizard's-tail, and various ferns.

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Hardwood Swamp

These wooded wetland communities are composed of either pure stands of hardwoods, or occur as a mixture of hardwoods and cypress. This association of wetland-adapted trees occurs throughout the state on organic soils and forms the forested floodplains of non-alluvial rivers, creeks, and broad lake basins. Tree species include a mixed overstory containing black gum, water tupelo, bald cypress, dahoon holly, red maple, swamp ash, cabbage palm, and sweetbay.

Bay Swamp

These hardwood swamps contain broadleaf evergreen trees that occur in shallow, stagnant drainages or depressions often found within pine flatwoods, or at the base of sandy ridges where seepage maintains constantly wet soils. The soils which are usually covered by an abundant layer of leaf litter, are mostly acidic peat or muck which remain saturated for long periods but over which little water level fluctuation occurs. Overstory trees within bayheads are dominated by sweetbay, swamp bay, and loblolly bay. Depending on the location within the state, other species including pond pine, slash pine, blackgum, cypress, and Atlantic white cedar can occur as scattered individuals, but bay trees dominate the canopy and characterize the community. Understory and groundcover species may include dahoon holly, wax myrtle, fetterbush, greenbriar, royal fern, cinnamon fern, and sphagnum moss.

Shrub Swamp

Shrub swamps are wetland communities dominated by dense, low-growing, woody shrubs or small trees. Shrub swamps are usually characteristic of wetland areas that are experiencing environmental change, and are early to mid-successional in species complement and structure. These changes are a result of natural or man-induced perturbations due to increased or decreased hydroperiod, fire, clear cutting or land clearing, and siltation. Shrub swamps statewide may be dominated by one species, such as willow, or an array of opportunistic plants may form a dense, low canopy. Common species include willow, wax myrtle, primrose willow, buttonbush, and saplings of red maple, sweetbay, black gum, and other hydric tree species indicative of wooded wetlands. In northern Florida, some shrub swamps are a fire-maintained subclimax of bay swamps. These dense shrubby areas are dominated by black titi, swamp cyrilla, fetterbush, sweet pepperbush, large gallberry, and myrtle-leaf holly.

Mangrove Swamp

These dense, brackish water swamps occur along low-energy shorelines and in protected, tidally influenced bays of southern Florida. This community is composed of freeze-intolerant tree species that are distributed south of a line from Cedar Key on the Gulf coast to St. Augustine on the Atlantic coast. These swamp communities are usually dominated by red, black, and white mangroves that progress in a sere from seaward to landward areas, respectively, while buttonwood trees occur in areas above high tide. Openings and transitional areas in mangrove swamps sometimes contain glasswort, saltwort, and other salt marsh species. All three major species of mangroves are mapped as a single class with no effort made to differentiate these species into separate zones.

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Bottomland Hardwoods

These wetland forests are composed of either pure stands of hardwoods, or occur as a mixture of hardwoods and cypress. This association of wetland-adapted trees occurs throughout the state on organic soils and forms the forested floodplains of non-alluvial rivers, creeks, and broad lake basins. Tree species include a mixed overstory containing black gum, water tupelo, bald cypress, blue beech, and swamp ash.

Aquatic (Open Water)

This community is comprised of the open water areas of inland freshwater lakes, ponds, rivers and creeks, and the brackish and saline waters of estuaries, bays, and tidal creeks, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Ocean.


These are upland communities where the predominant vegetative cover is very low growing grasses and forbs on intensively managed sites such as improved pastures, lawns, golf courses, road shoulders, cemeteries, or weedy, fallow agricultural field, etc. This very early successional category includes all sites with herbaceous vegetation during the time period between bare ground, and the shrub and brush stage.

Shrub and Brushland

his association includes a variety of situations where natural upland community types have been recently disturbed through clear-cutting commercial pinelands, land clearing, or fire, and are recovering through natural successional processes. This type could be characterized as an early condition of old field succession, and the community is dominated by various shrubs, tree saplings, and lesser amounts of grasses and herbs. Common species include wax myrtle, saltbush, sumac, elderberry, saw palmetto, blackberry, gallberry, fetterbush, staggerbush, broomsedge, dog fennel, together with oak, pine and other tree seedlings or saplings.

Exotic Plant Communities

Upland and wetland areas dominated by non-native trees that were planted or have escaped and invaded native plant communities. These exotics include melaleuca, Australian pine, Brazilian pepper, and eucalyptus.


This class includes highly reflective unvegetated areas such as roads, beaches, active strip mines, tilled agricultural sites, and cleared land on sandy soils. Unvegetated sites in urban areas which include rooftops of buildings, athletic fields, landfills, and parking lots, etc., are also included in this category. Vegetated tracts within urban areas are classified and mapped according to their predominate vegetation cover or plant community type.

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Last updated: September 21, 2011

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