Everglades National Park

Plant Life
A cypress tree grove at Everglades National Park.
A cypress tree grove at Everglades National Park. (courtesy, NPS)

One of the key reasons for the establishment of Everglades National Park was to preserve some of the region's rare and beautiful plants in their natural surroundings. This variety of plants is a blend of tropical and temperate zone species, each adapting to a special niche in the watery world of the Everglades. The park has about 1,000 different kinds of seed-bearing plants and many others representing more primitive and simply constructed groups, such as ferns, mosses, and lichens.

Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle)
The red mangrove tree is the only true mangrove in Florida. It has two important adaptations—its salt tolerance and the ability of its seeds to germinate and begin to grow while still on the parent tree. Another interesting adaptation is its ability to grow in fresh water. It has small, yellow waxy flowers and produces seeds that look like miniature cigars. These seedlings float, and then lodge themselves at the first opportunity, whether it be directly under, or miles away from the parent tree.

The leaves of the red mangrove play an important part in the nutrient cycles of the estuary. When a mangrove leaf falls into the water, it becomes part of the underwater food chain within 48 hours. Many microscopic sea dwellers feed on the leaves.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)
Bald cypress is a deciduous (loses its leaves) conifer that gets its name from its bare appearance during the winter dry season. The base of the tree, called a buttress, can be as much as six feet (1.8 m) across. This helps the tree's root system support itself in the somewhat shallow soil in which it grows. Off the root system, small "knees" stick up out of the water. Biologists are not sure what purpose these knees serve. The cypress tree is host to numerous "hangers on," called epiphytes (air plants). These plants do not harm the tree; they only use the tree bark as an anchoring place. Cypress was logged and sold commercially as lumber in the 1940s.

Today the trees in Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve are protected. Miccosukee Indians are the only group harvesting the cypress tree in Big Cypress National Preserve, using the tree trunks for constructing their homes.

Slash Pine (Pinus elliotti var. densa)
This fire-tolerant species is well-adapted to life in the Everglades. It has a layered bark that helps protect it from the ravages of fire. The slow-growing tree does not compete well with faster-growing hardwood species. The hardwoods, if left alone, would eventually take over the pinelands. Fortunately, fire helps eliminate these less adaptable species. Pines produce cones each year. Each cone contains many paper-thin seeds. If deposited in an open space, they will germinate and begin a new forest. Pines have played an important role in human history. The sap from living trees has been used for gun powder, turpentine, and paint-thinners. The tree's wood is often used to make lumber for homes.

Gumbo Limbo Tree (Bursera simaruba)
A bright red, peeling, smooth bark gives this tree excellent identification marks. The dark green leaves are in compound sets of five. It extends its root system into the limestone sink-holes of hammocks, where it grows. When strong winds, like those of a hurricane, topple the tree, it will often resprout from a broken branch that has fallen onto the ground. It also grows in Central America. There, the cut limbs are used as fence posts, which often start growing!

Sabal Palm (Sabal palmetto)
This palm is also called the great cabbage palm and is the state tree of Florida. It gets its name from the center, or heart, of the palm. When harvested and cooked, it tastes like cabbage. It was survival food for many early Florida pioneers. The palm fronds are woven and used as roofing materials for Miccosukee Indian homes. Raccoons, opossums, and birds feed on the palm seeds. Today many of the Sabal palms are disappearing from the wild because developers are digging them for landscaping.

Lysiloma (Lysiloma latisiliqua)
Lysiloma is a smooth-barked tree with light green, compound leaves. The greenish-yellow, powder-puff flowers that appear in the summer provide food for a number of flying insects, while the lichen growing on the tree's bark is food for the liguus tree snail.

Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea)
Life for this tree begins like most trees, as a seed. The only difference is that this seed is carried by a bird, and is usually deposited in the crevice of another tree, not on the ground. The seed sprouts and sends out a thread-like root that travels down the trunk of its host, eventually making it to the rich, nourishing earth below. Soon, the strangler fig starts to grow, eventually squeezing the host tree out of the way and taking over its spot in the limited space of the hammock. The dark green leaves are alternate, and the fruit, originally green, ripens to red. White sap oozes from the leaves and branches when cut.

Royal Palm (Roystonea elata)
This majestic tree grows to 100 feet (30 m) tall. Its gray trunk resembles a cement pillar. The park's most visited area was named for this giant, and is the best area to view the trees. Pileated woodpeckers drill holes in their trunk and use them for nesting.

Other Notable Everglades Plants
Poisonwood (Metopium toxiferum)
Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Coco plum (Chrysobalanus icaco)
Pond apple (Annona glabra)
Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)
Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata)
Cattails (Typha latifolia)
Bladderwort (Utricularia foliosa)
Spatterdock lily (Nuphar luteum)
Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni)
Buttonwood (Conocarpus erecta)
Red bay (Magnolia virginiana)
White stopper (Eugenia axillaris)
Coastal plain willow (Salix caroliniana)
Resurrection fern (Polypodium polypodioides)
Whisk fern (Psilotum nudum)
Leather fern (Acrostichum danaeifolium)
Butterfly orchid (Encyclia tampensis)
Clam shell orchid (Encyclia cochleata)
Stiff-leaved wild pine (Tillandsia fasciculata)
Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides)


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