Wetland Communities

Hydric Hammock

Hydric hammock is characterized by a well developed hardwood or cabbage palm canopy with a relatively sparse understory often dominated by bluestem and ferns. It occurs on low, flat, wet sites where limestone may be near the surface. This community occurs as patches in a variety of lowland situations, often in association with springs or karst seepage. In coastal counties hydric hammock often occurs in lowlands just inland of the coastal communities. Hydric hammock is associated with and grades into floodplain swamp, strand swamp, basin swamp, baygall, wet flatwoods, coastal berm, maritime hammock, slope forest, or mesic hammock.

Soils are usually sands with a high organic content and are often saturated but seldom inundated for long periods of time. Fire is rare in this community because of the normally wet soils and sparse herbaceous ground cover.

Characteristic plants are live oak, water oak, swamp laurel oak, cabbage palm, southern red cedar, loblolly pine, Florida elm, sweetgum, red maple, sugarberry, sweetbay, persimmon, hornbeam, Walter�s viburnum, green haw, rattan vine, greenbriar, and trumpet creeper.

Characteristic animals include white-tailed deer, gray squirrel, raccoon, wild hog, wild turkey, swallow-tailed kite, red-shouldered hawk, barred owl, acadian flycatcher, and box turtle.

Alachua County's best examples of hydric hammock are those that lie to the north of Orange and Lochloosa Lakes, including Prairie Creek and Orange Lake Palm Hammock in Lochloosa Forest. Quality tracts may also be found at Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Barr Hammock, and Chacala Pond.

Wet Flatwoods

Wet flatwoods have a relatively open canopy of scattered slash or pond pine trees and/or cabbage palms with either a thick understory and sparse ground cover, or a sparse understory and dense ground cover. This community usually occurs in nearly flat, poorly drained areas. Wet flatwoods are associated closely with and often grade into hydric hammock, mesic flatwoods, wet prairie, or basin swamp.In Alachua County, wet flatwoods dominated by slash pine are relatively abundant. Those dominated by pond pine, however, are scarce. Extensive tracts of any type are not common. As with mesic flatwoods, silvicultural practices have degraded many of these systems.

Soils are commonly acidic sands overlying a hardpan or clay layer. Cabbage palm flatwoods tend to occur in areas underlain by calcareous materials. Frequent fire prevents succession to a hardwood-dominated forest.

The County's best examples have been identified at Kincaid Flatwoods, Townsend Branch (Mill Creek), and Barr Hammock. Smaller stands are scattered throughout the Hatchet Creek, Gum Root Swamp, Prairie Creek, and Lochloosa Forest.

Wet Prairie

Wet prairie is characterized as a nearly treeless plain with a variable ground cover of grasses, sedges, rushes and herbs. Shrubs such as wax myrtle and groundsel tree may dominate in areas not subjected to frequent fires. This community occurs in low, nearly flat, poorly drained areas where fire is frequent (every 2-4 years) and soils are seasonally saturated or inundated. Wet prairie is associated closely with and often grades into wet flatwoods, depression marsh, basin marsh, seepage slope, mesic flatwoods, or dry prairie.

Wet prairie is vulnerable to overgrazing by livestock and alterations in hydrologic or fire regimes.

However, flat, shallow wetlands of herbaceous vegetation in pine flatwoods areas are also included in this category. Under natural conditions, both fire and flooding are frequent.

Soils are typically sands, often with a substantial clay or organic component.

The most characteristic plant is maidencane, but most karst prairies have been so altered by drainage, fire protection, cattle grazing, mowing, fertilizing, sewage effluent, etc. that a large assortment of native and exotic weedy plants often dominate.

Characteristic animals of the prairie include marsh rabbit, round-tailed muskrat, cotton rat, sandhill crane, and Northern harrier (marsh hawk).

Few good quality, undisturbed tracts of this community remain in Alachua County. The main areas of this community in Alachua County are on the moist parts of karst prairies like Paynes Prairie and Kanapaha Prairie.

Baygall

Baygalls usually occur as forested, peat-filled depressions, often at the base of sandy seepage slopes. The dense canopy is composed of evergreen hardwoods dominated by sweetbay, swamp bay, and loblolly bay. Commonly, the understory is relatively open and consists of various shrubs, ferns, mosses and liverworts. Baygalls usually occur as small strips and patches associated with and often grading into seepage slope, bottomland forest, or floodplain swamp.

Soils are acidic peats that are saturated for much of the year by down-slope seepage and/or high water tables.

Because these systems rarely dry out, fire is rare. When an occasional fire does occur, the bay trees usually resprout and replace themselves.

This community occurs in scattered localities in north and east Alachua County. The best examples have been identified along Hatchet Creek. Other good quality baygalls may be found at Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Mill Creek, Barr Hammock, Lochloosa Forest, and Millhopper Flatwoods.

Seepage Slope

Seepage slopes are wetlands characterized as shrub thickets or boggy meadows on or at the base of slopes. They often occur where water percolating through sands encounter an impermeable layer of clay or rock. These communities usually are dominated by hydrophytic shrubs or herbs such as fetterbush, titi, male berry, waxmyrtle, ferns, grasses, and grass-likes. Seepage slopes most closely resemble bog communities but occur on slopes rather than flat land.

Soils are usually acidic, loamy sands with low nutrient availability and are usually saturated (but seldom inundated) by down-slope seepage. Small pools and rivulets are common, however.

Fire occurs at irregular intervals in this community. Frequent fires produce a herbaceous seepage slope while occasional fires permit the establishment of woody plants. In the absence of fire, woody plant invaders decrease soil moisture through increased transpiration rates and the site may become more like a baygall community.

Alachua County's best examples occur in the San Felasco Hammock State Preserve and in the vicinity of Mill Creek.

Bottomland Forest

Bottomland forest is a low-lying, closed canopy forest with either a dense shrubby understory and little ground cover, or an open understory and a ground cover of ferns, herbs, and grasses. The canopy typically is composed of a mixture of evergreen and deciduous species that can tolerate only occasional periods of inundation. These forests usually occur on low flatlands that border streams. Bottomland forest is associated closely with and often grades into floodplain swamp, hydric hammock, mesic flatwoods, mesic hammock, slope forest, baygall, or wet flatwoods.

Characteristic plants are water oak, swamp laurel oak, spruce pine, loblolly pine, red maple, magnolia, sweetgum, sweetbay, swamp tupelo, Florida elm, swamp dogwood, and hornbeam.

Soils are generally a mixture of clay and organic materials.

This community rarely burns as a result of the high humidity maintained beneath the dense canopy.

Alachua County's best examples are found in the forests associated with the Santa Fe River. Other, smaller tracts are common along the County's smaller streams.

Floodplain Swamp

Floodplain swamps occur on frequently flooded soils along stream channels and in low spots and oxbows within river floodplains. Dominant trees are usually bald cypress and blackgum. Species of ash may be locally abundant. Trees in this community are usually swollen at the base or "buttressed" in response to frequent floods and prolonged inundation. The understory and ground cover are usually sparse. Floodplain swamps often are associated with and grade into bottomland forest or hydric hammock.

Soils of floodplain swamps are highly variable mixtures of sand, organic, and alluvial material. Sloughs, oxbows and backwaters may accumulate considerable amounts of peat.

Fire is rare in this community.

Characteristic plants are bald-cypress, swamp tupelo, water tupelo, pumpkin ash, green ash, cabbage palm, and red maple.

Characteristic animals include beaver, wood duck, barred owl, red-shouldered hawk, and cottonmouth.

The forests associated with the Santa Fe River contain Alachua County's best and most extensive floodplain swamps. Other, smaller tracts are common along the County's numerous smaller streams.

Strand Swamp

Strand swamps are shallow, forested, elongated depressions or channels dominated by bald cypress. They are often situated in troughs in a flat limestone plain. Sloughs occupy the lowest area in the system and are usually dominated by a variety of floating and emergent macrophytes. Strand swamp is associated with and often grades into bottomland forest or floodplain swamp.

Soils are peats of varying depths and sand over limestone, and are inundated 200-300 days per year.

Fire occurs in the strand swamp only every 30-200 years, yet is essential to the maintenance of the system. Absence of fire leads to accumulation of peat and invasion of broad-leaved hardwoods.

Characteristic plants are bald-cypress or pond-cypress, swamp tupelo, green ash, pumpkin ash, red maple, sweetbay, swamp laurel oak, coastal plain willow, buttonbush, swamp dogwood, and wax-myrtle.

Characteristic animals are raccoon, river otter, white ibis, barred owl, wood duck, and cottonmouth.

The strand swamp community, while not common in Alachua County, is typified by that along the River Styx.

Basin Marsh

Basin marsh, or prairie, is characterized as a more or less herbaceous wetland located in a large depression. Often, these depressions are former shallow lakes. The vegetation is usually dominated by floating and emergent macrophytes. Basin marshes are associated with and often grade into wet prairie or lake communities. Because the vegetation is similar, a small basin marsh may be very difficult to distinguish from a large depression marsh.

Soils are acidic peats that form as shallow lake bottoms slowly fill with sediments from the surrounding uplands and material from decaying vegetation. Basin marshes usually are inundated for 200 or more days per year.

Frequent fires maintain the herbaceous community by restricting invasion by shrubs and trees.

Characteristic plants are maidencane, pickerel-weed, saw-grass, cat-tail, primrose-willow, lotus, water-lily, spatter-dock, etc.

Characteristic animals include river otter, raccoon, round tailed muskrat, wood stork, sandhill crane, white ibis, herons and egrets, rails, mottled duck, blue-winged teal, harrier (marsh hawk), snipe, moorhen, purple gallinule, red-winged blackbird, boat-tailed grackle, alligator, stripped mud turtle, stinkpot, chicken turtle, green water snake, mud snake, stripped swamp snake, pig frog, Florida cricket frog, and a whole host of small fish species such as the mosquito fish, golden top minnow, pirate perch.

Basin marshes in Alachua County are generally restricted to its south-central portion and are exemplified by vast areas of Paynes Prairie State Preserve.

Basin Swamp

Basin swamp is characterized as a large, irregularly shaped basin that is not associated with rivers, and is dominated by trees such as blackgum, cypress, red maple and, occasionally, slash pine. Hydrophytic shrubs such as fetterbush and virginia willow commonly grow on "hummocks" at the bases of trees and herbaceous ground cover varies from dense to sparse. Basin swamps often are associated with and may grade into wet flatwoods, hydric hammock, or bottomland forest. Small basin swamps may be difficult to distinguish from large dome swamps.

Soils in basin swamps are generally acidic peats, often overlying a clay lens or other impervious layer. The resulting perched water table may act as a reservoir releasing ground water as adjacent upland water tables drop during drought periods. Soils in this community typically are inundated for 200-300 days per year.

The frequency of fire varies and, therefore, influences the character of the swamp. Pine-dominated swamps burn frequently, cypress dominated swamps burn only infrequently, and blackgum swamps seldom burn.

Characteristic animals are raccoon, white ibis, barred owl, prothonotory warbler, and cottonmouth.

This community is common in the flatwoods of northern and eastern Alachua County.

Bog

Bogs are characterized as shrub-dominated wetlands that most commonly occur in depressions in flatwoods. The vegetation is often dominated by sphagnum moss, fetterbush, large gallberry, titi, waxmyrtle, virginia willow and other hydrophytic shrubs. Bogs are associated with and often grade into baygall, wet flatwoods, seepage slopes, basin swamp, and bottomland forest.

Soils are acidic, deep peats that are usually saturated or inundated. At times of high water, the peat and interwoven roots of shrubs may form a floating island in the depression.

Occasional fire maintains the shrubby character of the bog. Absence of fire leads to a tree-dominated condition.

Characteristic plants are sphagnum moss, fetterbush, bamboo-vine, loblolly bay, and sometimes slash pine. Other plants often present are pond-cypress, swamp tupelo, hooded pitcher plant, and tall blackberry.

Bogs are great escape cover for black bears and support some alligators, frogs, crayfish, etc.

Small bogs are common components of the flatwoods in the northern and eastern parts of Alachua County. Large ones, however, are rare. One of the best examples of this community in the County is Santa Fe Swamp, the headwaters of the Santa Fe River.

Depression Marsh

Depression marsh is characterized as a shallow, sometimes round depression in a sandy substrate. This community is similar in vegetation and physical features to, but generally much smaller than, basin marsh. Depression marshes are considered extremely important in providing breeding and foraging habitat for a variety of amphibians and wading birds. This community type is typical of karst regions where sand has slumped around or over a sinkhole and thereby created a shallow, conical depression filled by rainfall, runoff, and/or seepage from surrounding uplands. These communities often are associated with and grade into wet prairie, seepage slope, wet flatwoods, mesic flatwoods, dome swamp, or bog.

Soils are usually acidic sands with deepening peat toward the center. Hydroperiods are variable, ranging from less than 50 to over 200 days per year.

Frequent fire maintains the herbaceous character of the system by restricting the invasion of shrubs and trees.

Characteristic plants are Virginia chain fern, redroot, maidencane, pickerel-weed, spatter-dock, St. John's-wort, and yellow-eyed-grass.

Characteristic animals include wading birds, softshell turtle, chicken turtle, stripped newt, and a host of salamanders, toads, frogs, and tree frogs that use these wetlands for breeding.

Depression marshes are frequently encountered in the flatwoods of northern and eastern Alachua County.

Dome Swamp

Dome swamps are characterized as shallow, forested, usually circular depressions that generally present a domed profile. These communities are usually dominated by a canopy of pond cypress but blackgum and slash pine are also common components. The understory is composed of shrubs growing on "hummocks" at the bases of trees and a sparse to dense ground cover of grasses and grass-likes. Dome swamps typically develop in sandy flatwoods and in karst areas where sand has slumped over a sinkhole. Dome swamps are associated with and often grade into wet flatwoods, mesic flatwoods, wet prairie, or bottomland forest.

Soils usually are acidic peats overlying sands. Some domes have a clay lens beneath the peat layer. These communities normally are inundated for 200-300 days per year and often function as reservoirs that recharge the aquifer when adjacent water tables drop during drought conditions.

Periodic fires are essential for the maintenance of dome swamps as they restrict invasion of broad-leaved hardwoods and the accumulation of peat. Fire frequency is greatest at the periphery of the dome.

Characteristic trees are pond-cypress, blackgum, and slash pine, with some sweet bay, swamp bay, and/or loblolly bay around the edge. Fetterbush is usually the dominant shrub, and Virginia chain fern, redroot, and maidencane are characteristic ground cover.

Characteristic animals include raccoon, green-backed heron, white ibis, yellow-rumped warbler, banded water snake, glossy crayfish snake, black swamp snake, pine woods snake, dwarf siren, striped newt, southern dusky salamander, and little grass frog.

This community type commonly occurs in the flatwoods of the northern and eastern portions of Alachua County.

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