Biscayne National Park


One hundred thousand years ago the Florida Keys were "under construction." The builders were billions of coral animals, each not much larger than a period on this page. Together these animals constructed a 150-mile-long chain of underwater coral reefs. When these reefs later emerged from the sea, they became the many islands of the Florida Keys. If you look closely, you can see fossil coral rock on the islands of Biscayne.

A Tropical Paradise. Gumbo limbo. Jamaican dogwood. Strangler fig. Devil's-potato. Satin-leaf. Torchwood Mahogany. In this country only tiny pockets in south Florida contain this mixture of tropical trees and shrubs common in the West Indies. North-flowing air and ocean currents and storms delivered the Pioneer seeds and plants that eventually grew into the islands' lush, dark, jungle-like forests.

Walking along a trail through one of these forests, called hardwood hammocks, you are likely to see other natives of the tropics. Zebra butterflies and rare Schaus swallowtails find refuge in the thick tangle of leaves, branches, and vines. Golden orb weavers betray their presence with large yellow spider webs. Birds and a few mammals also share these isolated, mangrove fringed keys.

Native Americans to Millionaires
Over the years the keys attracted people willing to risk the chance of a hurricane and the certainty of pesky bugs. Native Americans were first. Tree-cutters from the Bahamas came later and felled massive mahoganies for ships. Early settlers on Elliott Key cleared forests and planted key limes and pineapples. Throughout the keys subtropical forests were destroyed. Biscayne preserves some of the finest left today.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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