The most extensive natural community in the
management area is sawgrass marsh. Sawgrass, which reaches heights
of 10 feet 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 light ground
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.
Fires every 1 to 5 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
Sloughs and Wet
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 2 to 4 years.
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 spatter-dock.
During the rainy season sloughs and wet prairies are habitat for
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
Tree islands comprise less than 2 percent of the
area but are an integral part of the Everglades ecosystem. These
islands vary in size from less than one acre to several hundred
Eighty percent of Everglades plant diversity is
found on tree islands. They are also critical habitat for deer,
Florida panther, bobcat, raccoon, marsh rabbit, river otter,
snakes, migratory songbirds, small mammals, and butterflies, and
nesting sites for wading birds, alligators, turtles, and raptors.
Dominant species are maple, dahoon holly, wax myrtle, elderberry,