Bottomland hardwoods account for only a small portion of the floodplain, primarily on natural levees along river shores and within the swamp forest. These higher areas are usually only flooded for brief periods and not always every year. They support sweetgum, red maple, ash, spruce pine, diamond-leaf oak, water oak, water hickory, catalpa, and an understory of blue beech, cabbage palm, needle palm, American holly, cane, and various grasses and sedges. On the higher areas are swamp chestnut oaks and a few southern magnolias.
Cypress swamps are shallow, forested wetlands with water at or just below the surface of the ground. They are dominated by either bald or pond cypress. Cypress swamps are located along streams, in shallow depressions (called domes or heads), or along shallow drainage systems (sloughs or strands).
In the delta of the lower Apalachicola, the river fans out in a floodplain up to 6 miles wide. The majority of the forest on this broad, flat floodplain, which is saturated or submerged much of the year, is gum-cypress. Dominant plants are bald cypress, water tupelo, ogeechee gum, black gum, ash, and red maple. Shrubs and understory vegetation are sparse. Many species of wildlife forage on the ground for the fallen fruit of gum trees during early fall when the water is low. The floodplain is also good habitat for crayfish, snails, and other smaller organisms that support larger animals such as otter, mink, raccoon, and opossum.
Freshwater and Estuarine Marsh
These fresh, brackish, and saltwater marshes are some of the most productive systems in the world and are vital habitats for a variety of species. The marshes support predominantly fresh to brackish water vegetation consisting primarily of sawgrasses, bullrushes, cattails, cordgrasses, and needlerushes. Large areas of freshwater marsh, primarily sawgrass, are veined with creeks and punctuated with hammocks. Along these creeks and waterways are water tupelo, ogeechee gum, cypress, red maple, and ash. On the hammocks, diamond-leaf oak, cabbage palm, black gum, bay, and maple are common.
Estuarine organisms use the marsh habitat for a nursery ground, breeding area, or feeding zone. Ducks, wading birds, shore birds, and numerous predatory species are heavily dependent upon wetlands. Furbearers such as otters, minks, and raccoons are also closely tied to such wet environments. Alligators, turtles, snakes, frogs, and many other reptiles and amphibians are often totally dependent upon these habitats. The marsh vegetation is the beginning of the food web for many higher vertebrates that feed on the multitude of minute organisms, crustaceans, and shellfish that originate there.
Maritime hammocks are relatively wet hardwood forests found between uplands and true wetlands. They 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, live oak, red maple, Florida elm, cabbage palm, red cedar, blue-beech, and sweet gum.
Flatwoods are characterized by an open canopy forest of widely spaced pine trees (historically longleaf pines) with little or no understory, but dense ground cover of herbs and shrubs. The mesic (moist) flatwoods in this area are dominated by slash pine, gallberry, and saw palmetto and are closely associated with and often grade into hydric (wet) flatwoods or scrubby flatwoods. Most flatwoods on the Apalachicola River WEA have been converted into slash pine plantations. These areas have been bedded, clear cut, and replanted several times.
Wetland Shrub Scrub
These acid swamp communities composed of titi swamps, bayheads, and shrub bogs are widespread throughout the area and occupy the shallow depressions in flatwoods or occur along the borders of creeks and swamps. Common species of wetland scrub shrub communities include sweetbay, loblolly bay, swamp bay, red bay, black titi, swamp cyrilla, large gallberry, fetterbush, and myrtle-leaf holly. Slash and pond pine are often present. Ground cover except for sphagnum moss may be absent where the forest canopy has closed. Shrub bogs with open canopies may have ground cover comprised predominately of sedges.