Trees, shrubs, and vines vary with elevation and
soils. Cabbage palm is more abundant on higher elevations. Huge
stumps are reminders of impressive bald cypress that once dominated
the overstory before logging. Cypress regeneration has been uneven.
Red maple, sweet gum, winged elm, magnolia, ashes, and red cedar
now dominate the overstory in some portions of the swamp. The
understory varies with elevation as well and is dominated by
palmetto, American beautyberry, grape vines, ferns, swamp dogwood,
dahoon holly, and wax myrtle. The swamp stores and cleanses water
entering the Chassahowitzka estuary. For a diverse range of
wildlife, the swamp means food, shelter, and denning and nesting
Scattered throughout the uplands, cypress domes
consist of pond cypress, bald cypress, red maple, sweet gum,
willow, and buttonbush. Historically more cypress domes existed in
the area. Logging operations removed most of the cypress from the
ponds before converting the landscape to pine plantations.
Found in low areas with high water tables in the
sandhills and flatwoods as well as along inland creeks. Sawgrass,
actually a sedge not a grass, with saw-like leaf edges is commonly
the most dominant freshwater marsh plant. Freshwater marshes
support numerous wading birds, fish, and alligators.
Scattered throughout the sandhills, wet prairies
are dominated by herbaceous species that produce a colorful flush
of wildflowers in the fall. White tops, spike rushes, bog buttons,
dahoon holly, American lotus, spatter dock, and grasses are
Tidal marsh extends from the Gulf to tidal creeks.
Dominant plants are black needle rush and smooth cordgrass. As
creeks change from brackish to fresh, sawgrass becomes common. Red
cedar, cabbage palms, and live oaks occur on islands of high ground
and along the creeks. Although salt marshes appear visually
uniform, they are among the most biologically rich communities on
earth. Salt marshes are protected spawning and nursery areas for
thousands of marine organisms and feeding grounds for a host of
terrestrial and aquatic animals. They also produce abundant
nutrients carried by the tide to the sea.
Longleaf pine or slash pine with saw palmetto, wax
myrtle, and gallberry understory. Generally found on relatively
flat, moderate to poor soils, sometimes with low surface water
availability. Flatwoods have also been degraded by lack of fire. In
some places, the wax myrtle/gallberry understory exceeds eight feet
and is so dense that quality wildlife forage has been
Scattered longleaf or sand pine, blackjack oak and
turkey oak with wiregrass, palmettos, and forbs in the understory.
Because of timbering, large overstory pines are scarce. Species
richness is also low in most areas because of fire suppression
prior to state purchase. A keystone species of the sandhill
community is the gopher tortoise. Nearly 400 species of animals,
including the threatened Eastern indigo snake and the rare Florida
mouse use borrows of the gopher tortoise. Several species of
insects are found only in gopher tortoise borrows.
On a ridge of historic dunes running parallel to
the coast about 3 to 4 miles inland are remnants of scrub. Some of
the rarest plants and animals in the world are found in Florida
scrub communities. In the past the scrub in Chassahowitzka was
protected from fire and as a result was in poor condition when the
area was purchased by the state. Common species include sand pine,
myrtle oak, and scrub live oak. When restored, scrub on the Weeki
Wachee tract may become home once again to the threatened Florida