Upland Communities


When managed with fire, this is a very open, sunny forest of pine and deciduous oak with a grass and wildflower ground cover. Low intensity ground fires occurred naturally every 1 to 3 years before the advent of fire suppression. The sandhill community occurs on well-drained, deep sands and provides important aquifer recharge sites because the porous sands allow water to percolate rapidly with little runoff or evaporation. Longleaf pine dominates sites that are burned frequently while turkey oak is more prevalent in areas burned less often. The canopy and midstory are relatively open, permitting sunlight to penetrate to the ground. Exclusion of fire promotes the growth of other xeric oaks and the nature of the area changes toward xeric hammock.

The most common variant of this community is dominated by a mixture of longleaf pine, turkey oak and wiregrass. Other trees, only locally prominent, are bluejack oak, sand live oak, sandhill dropseed, blazing star, and bracken fern, and, when fire is not frequent, persimmon.

Characteristic animals include Sherman's fox squirrel, pocket gopher, gray fox, bobwhite quail, Southeastern kestrel (sparrow hawk), red-headed woodpecker, Bachman's sparrow, gopher tortoise, Florida pine snake, and Florida gopher frog.

Sandhill communities are associated with and grade into scrub, scrubby flatwoods, mesic flatwoods, upland pine forest, or xeric hammock.

Sandhill was once abundant in Alachua County, primarily in the southwest. Fire supression and fragmentation caused by development has severely degraded this habitat throughout its range. Significant remaining tracts have been identified in San Felasco Hammock, Austin Cary Memorial Forest, Morningside Nature Center, Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Oleno State Park, near Watermelon Pond, Kanapaha Prairie, Lochloosa Forest's Palatka Pond tract, and in the vicinity of Moss Lee Lake. Smaller tracts may be found at various locations around the County. The typical condition in Alachua County now is conversion to a slash pine plantation with remnants of sandhill ground cover flora, a few turkey oaks, and a few gopher tortoises.

Former Sandhill

This sandhill habitat is almost identical to sandhill. It is very open and has most of the same plant species, but has been invaded with water oak, sand live oak, upland laurel oak, and loblolly pine due to fire suppression. When properly managed with fire, this former sandhill habitat will return to the open, sunny sandhill forest of longleaf pine and turkey oak with a grass and wildflower ground cover. Low intensity ground fires occurred naturally every 1 to 3 years before the advent of fire suppression.

Characteristic plants are similar to sandhill with the addition of water oak, sand live oak, upland laurel oak, and loblolly pine.


The term "scrub" is normally applied to areas dominated by sand pine or various evergreen trees and shrubs that are adapted to extremely dry conditions. Ground lichens are normally abundant. Herbaceous vegetation is sparse and open patches of barren sand are common.

This community occurs on well-drained, deep sands and burns only infrequently. When a fire does start it is often a crown fire that burns all vegetation to the ground. The heat generated by the fire, however, triggers the release of seeds from the normally closed cones of the sand pine. In addition, many of the shrubs resprout from their root crowns. Because of its loose, easily eroded sands, this is a delicate system that is easily damaged by development and its associated foot and vehicular traffic.

Characteristic animals: spotted skunk, oldfield mouse, Florida scrub jay, rufous-sided towhee, coachwhip, mole skink, and scrub lizard. Other listed animals that occur here are gopher tortoise, Eastern indigo snake, and Florida mouse.

Scrub is associated with and often grades into sandhill, scrubby flatwoods, coastal strand, and xeric hammock.

The scrub community is virtually unique to Florida and is most abundant on the central Florida ridge south of Alachua County. Never a common habitat in the County, it also tends to lack the sand pine canopy so typical of the community further south. There are less than 1,000 remaining acres, with most of these located near Parchman Pond and Prairie Creek. Much smaller tracts can be found at Oleno State Park, Hornesby Springs, Watermelon Pond, and Palm Point Hill.

Xeric Hammock

In general terms, hammocks are woods dominated by broad-leaved, evergreen trees. Xeric hammock is a natural transition from sandhill and scrub habitats in which fire is rare or nonexistent. The canopy varies from open to closed and is dominated by species that are adapted to well-drained, sandy soils but not adapted to fire.

Characteristic plants include sand live oak, saw palmetto, crooked- wood, sparkleberry, beautyberry, scrub beakrush, and bracken fern. Other plants often present include live oak, laurel oak, pignut hickory, magnolia, huckleberry, and deerberry. Herbaceous vegetation is usually sparse and the soil is often covered by a thick layer of oak litter.

Characteristic animals include spadefoot toad and southern hognosed snake. Other animals usually common here include gray squirrel, white-tailed deer, armadillo, Carolina wren, blue jay, and cardinal.

Xeric hammocks often are associated with and grade into scrub, sandhill, mesic hammock or slope forest and, as such, the dividing line is often subtle.

Fire suppression and fragmentation resulting from development are likely serving to increase the acreage of this community in Alachua County. The County's best example is a 240-acre tract in the vicinity of Prairie Creek. Other good examples can be found at Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Oleno State Park, Watermelon Pond, Hickory Sink, Palm Point Hill, and Chacala Pond.

Mesic Hammock/Upland Mixed Forest

Usually called mesic hammock in this area, this is a tall, dense, closed canopy hardwood forest on level to moderately sloping fertile soil. Drainage may range from rather poor to excellent, but there is no flooding. Fire is rare and never intense. The drier, more sterile areas tend to be dominated by evergreen hardwoods, while the more moist, fertile lands are dominated by deciduous hardwood species. The relatively dense canopy is usually composed of fire-intolerant species such as southern magnolia, live oak, red bay, pignut hickory, American holly, black cherry, pignut hickory, laurel oak, water oak, sweetgum, swamp chestnut oak, white ash, basswood and spruce pine in the overstory, and hop-hornbeam in the understory. Many other plant species are usually present including many kinds of vines such as wild grape, poison-ivy, and Virginia creeper and many shade tolerant herbaceous plants such as violets, spike grass, woods grass, and partridge berry in the ground cover. Loblolly pine is often a common component on disturbed sites.

Common animals include white-tailed deer, armadillo, gray squirrel, wild turkey, pileated woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, red-eyed vireo, summer tanager, parula warbler, box turtle, and yellow rat snake.

Mesic hammock often is associated with and grades into upland pine forest, slope forest, xeric hammock or bottomland forest.

While hundreds of small patches of young-growth mesic hammock may be found throughout Alachua County, large old-growth sites are extremely rare. Those found in San Felasco Hammock State Preserve are the best examples. Good examples of this community are at Hornsby Springs, Fred Bear Hammock, Barr Hammock, Buzzard's Roost, Domino Hammock, Kanapaha Prairie, Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Oleno State Park, Serenola Forest, Palm Point Hill, and the Cross Creek area.

Calcarious Mesic Hammock

This comes under the heading of upland mixed forest in the FNAI classification, but is distinct enough in north central Florida to warrant a separate category. The soils are moderately to well drained, sandy with varying amounts of organic matter and sometimes clay, overlying limerock that is near the surface. The forest is a densely shaded hardwood forest of high diversity and usually has a dense and diverse ground cover of herbaceous plants.

Characteristic plants are the same as for upland mixed forest except that laurel oak and water oak are not common and sugarberry, winged elm, shumard oak, and especially redbay are common. Some plants that are largely restricted to this habitat are soapberry, bluff oak, Florida maple, climbing buckthorn, Godfrey's privet, Carolina buckthorn, silver buckthorn, virgin's bower, and rouge berry.

Sugarfoot Hammock, south of the Oaks Mall, formerly was one of the most diverse, highest quality, old-growth examples of this community in the North-Central Florida region. However, in the 11 years since adoption of the 1991-2011 Comprehensive Plan it has been all but lost to urban development.

Slope Forest

This community, along with mesic hammock, is the most diverse of the upland systems. It is characterized by a dense canopy of mostly deciduous, fire-intolerant hardwoods that occur on steep slopes, bluffs and ravines. While it includes many of the same species that occur in mesic hammock, the densely shaded slopes create cool, moist conditions that are conducive to the growth of some species that are more typical of the Piedmont and Southern Appalachian Mountains such as American beech, red buckeye, sugar maple, bluff oak and basswood.

The soils of slope forests are generally composed of sands, sandy-clays, or clayey-sands with substantial organic matter and, sometimes, calcareous material at the bottom of the slope. Moisture conditions may vary from nearly xeric at the top of the slope to nearly hydric at the foot. As a result of the substantial topographic relief, the soils of this community are subject to erosion. Fire is very rare and never intense.

Characteristic plants are magnolia, beech, spruce pine, shumard oak, water oak, Florida maple, sweetgum and basswood.

Common animals are white-tailed deer, gray squirrel, pileated woodpecker, parula warbler, red-eyed vireo, red-shouldered hawk, and yellow rat snake.

Slope forests often are associated with and grade into upland pine forest or sandhill at their upper elevations, and bottomland forest, seepage slope, or floodplain communities at their lower elevations.

The northwest part of Alachua County contains the southernmost extension of the slope forest community type. Mill Creek has been identified as the County's best example of this system with tracts of lesser quality in Beech Valley and Rocky Creek.

Upland Pine Forest

Upland pine forest is characterized by rolling hills of widely spaced longleaf or, in previously disturbed areas, loblolly pines, with relatively few understory shrubs and a dense ground cover of grasses (wiregrass is often dominant) and herbs.

Characteristic plants also include southern red oak, post oak, mockernut hickory, chinquapin, sassafras, New Jersey tea, yellow hawthorn, and rusty blackhaw. Other common plants include bluejack oak, sand post oak, and a great many herbaceous plants.

Frequent fire (every 3-5 years) is necessary to maintain this community as it reduces encroachment by hardwoods and promotes the regeneration of pines and herbaceous plants. With protection from fire, this community quickly becomes invaded by laurel oak, live oak, water oak, sweetgum, loblolly pine, and many other hammock species.

The soils of this community type are generally sandy with variable amounts of clay. The presence of clays helps to retain soil moisture, and results in more mesic conditions than might be expected of areas dominated by longleaf pine and wiregrass. For this reason, upland pine forest succeeds to mesic hammock in the absence of frequent fire.

Characteristic animals are the same as for sandhill. Indeed, these two habitats have historically been placed together in one main category called high pine. While common in the Panhandle and further north, upland pine forest is restricted to Alachua and Marion Counties in peninsular Florida and is disappearing rapidly due to fragmentation and fire suppression.

Hickory Sink used to be Alachua County's best example of this community type, but is now largely degraded by conversion to pine plantation. Other degraded remnants can be found in Serenola Forest, Domino Hammock, and Kanapaha Prairie.


Sinkholes usually are characterized as cylindrical or conical depressions with steep limestone walls. They are most common in karst areas where the underlying limestone has been riddled with solution cavities. When water tables drop, the cavern roof is no longer supported by water pressure and portions of it collapse resulting in the typical cylindrical or conical depression. The organic and mineral debris that collapsed into the cavity often does not completely occlude the sinkhole's connection to the water table. For this reason sinkholes frequently function as aquifer recharge areas. Some sinkholes do not have exposed limerock, but may have special habitat features, such as a different community of plants than the surrounding landscape or different microclimate.

The plant community is often similar to upland mixed forest or slope forest. Those with steep limestone walls often have a very distinct flora of liverworts, mosses, ferns, herbs, shrubs, and hardwood trees (including rare, threatened and endangered species).

The vegetation of sinkholes is partly a reflection of the parent community in which it is found, especially around the rim and on the upper slopes. Additionally, sinkholes often are a refugium for plants not usually found in the parent community because of the moist microclimate provided by down-slope seepage from surrounding uplands and protection from drying winds in the depression. Similarly, sinkholes provide habitat for species of animals such as salamanders and invertebrates that would otherwise not survive in drier communities.

Sinkholes are a common occurrence in Alachua County, particularly in its southwestern half. The Devil's Mill Hopper Geological State Park is the County's best example.

Dry Prairie

Dry prairie is characterized as a nearly treeless, flat plain with a dense ground cover of wiregrass, saw palmetto and various other grasses and herbs. The soils typically are moderately to poorly drained acidic sands overlying an organic hardpan or clayey subsoil.

Frequent fires (every 1-4 years) limit recruitment of pines and encroachment by hardwoods. Some authorities suggest that dry prairie is not a natural community because of the unnaturally high frequency of fire. Other authorities argue that this system may have once been more prevalent than at present. In any case, fire suppression and agricultural conversion is rapidly eliminating this community type. Those acres that remain should be carefully managed as this is the preferred habitat of the Florida burrowing owl, a "Species of Special Concern" in Florida.

Dry prairie is associated closely with and often grades into wet prairie or mesic flatwoods. While small dry prairie sites are scattered in commercial pinelands and in drier zones surrounding wet prairie, no significant tracts have been identified in Alachua County.

Mesic Flatwoods

Mesic flatwoods are characterized as having a relatively open canopy of pine with little or no understory but a dense ground cover of herbs and shrubs. The two most common variants of this community are the longleaf pine/wiregrass/runner oak association and the slash pine/gallberry/saw palmetto association.

Soils are moderately to poorly drained and consist of acidic sands generally overlying an organic hardpan or clayey subsoil that restricts the movement of water above and below it.

Periodic fire (every 1-8 years) both restricts the encroachment of hardwoods and provides a suitable substrate for the regeneration of pines.

Mesic flatwoods are associated closely with and often grade into wet flatwoods, dry prairie, or scrubby flatwoods. The differences between these communities are usually related to small changes in topography. Wet flatwoods occupy the lower, wetter sites while scrubby flatwoods occupy the higher, drier lands.

Typical animals here include black bear, white-tailed deer, cottontail, cotton rat, towhee, yellowthroat, pine warbler, brown-headed nuthatch, black racer, diamondback rattlesnake, and pinewoods tree frog.

Mesic flatwoods once covered much of the northeastern half of Alachua County. Currently, however, most of these natural flatwoods have been converted to pine plantation and associated silvicultural practices have altered the understory vegetation and age structure of the canopy.

The trend toward short rotations of planted pine has made these areas unsuitable habitat for certain wildlife species, such as the federally endangered red cockaded woodpecker, that depend upon mature, old-growth pine forests. While many small tracts of this community type may still be found, large, high-quality sites are becoming increasingly scarce due to continued pressure from development and silviculture.

The Palatka Pond area of Lochloosa Forest and Shenks Flatwoods have been identified as the County's best examples. Other, smaller tracts include portions of Austin Cary Memorial Forest, Paynes Prairie State Preserve, San Felasco State Preserve, Hatchett Creek, Oleno State Park, Lake Altho Flatwoods, Millhopper Flatwoods, and Gum Root Swamp.

Scrubby Flatwoods

Scrubby flatwoods are characterized by a canopy of scattered pines above a dense woody shrub thicket growing on a layer of well drained sand that is on top of poorly drained, flat subsoil.

The fire cycle of moderate to intense fires varies from every 2 to perhaps every 10 years.

Characteristic plants are longleaf pine, slash pine, sand live oak, myrtle oak, chapman oak, saw palmetto, fetterbush, huckleberry, crookedwood, tarflower, flatwoods pawpaw, scrub hedge-hyssop, and pennyroyal. The vegetation is a combination of plants common to scrub and mesic flatwoods and is often found in the transition area between these communities.

While scrubby flatwoods is not a rare community type in Alachua County, most tracts are small. For example, there are several small, quality tracts at Prairie Creek, Paynes Prairie State Preserve, Oleno State Park, Lochloosa Forest, Austin Cary Memorial Forest, Hatchett Creek, Barr Hammock, and the South Melrose Flatwoods.

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