Wet Prairie/Slough

The wet prairies of the Everglades are treeless plains with sparse to dense ground cover of grasses and herbs, including maidencane, spikerush, and beakrush. Other typical plants include swamp lily, arrowhead, pickerel weed, ludwigia, and bladderwort. Wet prairies occur on low, relatively flat, poorly drained terrain. They are saturated approximately 90 percent of the year and burn every two to four years.

Wet Prairie

Sloughs within the Everglades are broad shallow channels inundated with flowing water except during extreme droughts. They often correspond with linear depressions in underlying bedrock. Vegetation consists of large emergent herbs and floating aquatic plants such as white water lily, floating hearts, and spadderdock. During the rainy season sloughs and wet prairies are habitat for a wide variety of fish species as well as snails, crayfish, and other invertebrates. As water levels decline during the dry season, fish and invertebrates move to deep water sloughs for refuge. This high concentration of prey during the dry season is a critical source of food for the endangered wood stork and other wading birds. Wet prairies and sloughs are threatened by the spread of melaleuca and cattails. Stands of chemically treated dead melaleuca can be observed on the north side of I-75 from mile marker 19 to mile marker 23.

Sawgrass Marsh

Sawgrass Marsh

The most extensive natural community in the management area is sawgrass marsh. The dominant species sawgrass, which reaches heights of 10 feet high or more, thrived in the low-nutrient and fluctuating water conditions of the historic Everglades. The black peat of the Everglades valued for agriculture, especially sugar cane, formed over thousands of years from decaying sawgrass and charcoal from frequent fires. Today water levels in the marsh are regulated by water control structures as well as by rainfall and vary from an average of 2 feet deep at the peak of the wet season in October to below ground level at the end of the dry season in May. Sawgrass is important to ground nesting birds such as the American and least bitterns, which build elevated mound nests out of dead vegetation and use the thick growth of sawgrass for cover. Elsewhere in south Florida, the endangered Florida panther sometimes dens in sawgrass during the dry season (winter and early spring).

Fires every one to five years are typical and result from lightning in the late spring when the ground surface is dry, although sawgrass will carry a fire over water. When the peat dries out in extreme droughts, devastating muck fires may consume the soil and lower the ground surface converting the sawgrass marsh to a slough.

Tree Islands

Tree Island

Tree islands comprise less than two percent of the area but are an integral part of the Everglades ecosystem. These islands vary in size from less than an acre to several hundred acres. Distant tree islands can be seen from I-75 at mile marker 38 to mile marker 42. 

Eighty percent of Everglades plant diversity is found on tree islands. These islands are also critical habitat for various wildlife species such as: deer, Florida panther, Florida black bear, bobcat, raccoon, marsh rabbit, river otter, snakes, migratory songbirds, small mammals, and butterflies.  In addition, tree islands provide nesting sites for wading birds, alligators, turtles, and raptors.

Within Everglades and Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area are different types of tree islands distinguished by species composition and topography. In the extreme southwestern portion of the area, species composition is more tropical, and many of the islands are dominated by cypress. The tear-shaped islands that are generally oriented north-south following the flow of water were formed on outcrops of limestone. On most of the area, cabbage palm, dahoon holly, red bay, sweet bay, and red maple are the dominant tree species.

FWC Facts:
The Wall Street Journal has ranked the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival of Brevard County as the third-best birding festival in the United States.

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