Cypress domes and strands on Dinner Island are dominated by bald cypress with red maple, sweet bay and swamp laurel oak. Popash and cabbage palms appear in the subcanopy. The understory is relatively open and includes buttonbush and wax myrtle. Lizard's tail is abundant. Bromeliads and other epiphytes are found in the branches of the trees and the boots of the cabbage palm leaves.
Dry Prairie/Improved Pasture
Prior to European settlement, dry prairie covered large portions of Dinner Island, with scattered cypress domes and strands, pinelands, isolated freshwater wetlands and hammocks. Dry prairie is a flat, usually treeless expanse of native grasses and shrubs, including saw palmetto, fetterbush, staggerbush, gallberry, wiregrass and various types of bluestem grasses. Throughout history, lightning ignited fires were intense and frequent and likely the reason that natural prairies have few trees. Despite its name, summer rains can saturate this "dry" habitat. Before some wetlands were filled or drained at Dinner Island, rain accumulations slowly flowed across the land. Much of the dry prairie at Dinner Island was converted to pasture for cattle. Forage grasses such as Bahia grass replaced native grasses and fire was no longer allowed to sweep across the terrain.
Marshes are treeless areas that retain water three to four months of the year, though water levels fluctuate with the seasons. During dry seasons and drought, fires sweep through marshes, killing any tree and shrub seedlings and rejuvenating the marshes. At Dinner Island, water levels tend to be highest in summer and fall as a result of the summer rainy period. Water levels and seasons affect the types and variety of plants and animals associated with the marshes. Marshes are of two types at Dinner Island: sawgrass and flag marshes. Sawgrass marshes are dominated by Jamaica swamp sawgrass with spikerush, and other rushes in the deeper areas, along with bladderworts and other floating plants. In flag marshes, fireflag, maidencane, pickerelweed are the dominant species. Both types of marshes support a diverse food web that includes insects, snails, grass shrimp, crayfish, snakes, turtles and alligators. White-tailed deer commonly browse in shoulder-deep water, feeding on pickerelweed and waterlilies. Birds, especially wading and water birds, are the most abundant of the animals spotted in these habitats. When water levels are low, tadpoles, fish and other small prey are concentrated in small areas and are more easily picked off by predators such as raccoons, otters and birds.
At Dinner Island, the pine flatwoods consist of open stands of south Florida slash pine with an understory of mainly bahia grass with cabbage palms and occasionally paw-paw, runner oak and broomsedge. Due to fire exclusion by previous landowners, oaks, wax myrtles and other hardwoods have grown up beneath the slash pine canopy. Of the three flatwoods types found in Florida, slash pine flatwoods have the highest species diversity. They are dependent on fire to reduce competition from hardwoods as well as to maintain species diversity. Fire will be the primary tool used to achieve desired plant communities. A forest management plan is being developed to address natural flatwoods restoration. Both overstory and understory plant species (including native grasses and forbs) will be planted and/or restored within pastures to create forested wildlife corridors that connect smaller, isolated pine stands.
Live oak and cabbage palm dominate the scattered areas of mesic hammock at Dinner Island. These areas also typically include some red mulberry, soapberry, hackberry, red maple and swamp laurel oak in wetter areas.