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Tropical Hardwood Hammock

The tropical hardwood hammock is an ecosystem consisting of broad-leafed trees, shrubs, and vines, nearly all of which are native to the West Indies, with Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) being the only significant temperate species. Subject to thin soils and a tropical climate, hardwood hammocks form a dense canopy with a tangle of shrubs and vines at the ground level and its outer edges.

Historically, tropical hammocks were found as far north as Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic coast and to the mouth of the Manatee River in Tampa Bay on the Gulf coast. Now, most of the hammocks have been lost to development, leaving small patches of hammock habitat in South Florida.

Hammocks occur in marshes, pinelands, mangrove swamps, and the interiors of some wetland tree islands. Hammocks develop at elevations high enough to prevent seasonal flooding. The dense shade created by a mature hammock regulates the temperature inside, keeping them several degrees cooler during the summer months, and sheltering the hammock interior from winter winds.

Although fire is a necessary characteristic of other forest communities in South Florida, the hardwood hammock is intolerant of fire. The sparse understory, dense shade of the canopy, and permeating moisture of a hammock helps to insulate them from fire. In very dry periods however, hammocks become more vulnerable to wildfire, and a major burn can completely destroy a hammock.

Since hammocks typically have a dense canopy, few understory plants grow, but a thick barrier of shrubs and vines usually dominates the fringe of a hammock, making entry difficult. The wildlife that inhabits a hammock is derived almost entirely from southeastern temperate North America and the West Indies. The most common sightings are of birds, the Florida tree snail, lizards, an occasional owl, and raccoons. The lush, rich vegetation is the focal point of this forest.

Commonly Found Trees and Shrubs

  • Florida Royal Palm (Roystonea elata)
  • Live Oak (Quercus virginiana)
  • Pigeon Plum (Coccoloba diversifolia)
  • Wild Tamarind (Lysiloma latisiliqua)
  • Gumbo Limbo (Bursera simaruba)
  • Strangler Fig (Ficus aurea)
  • Paradise Tree (Simarouba glauca)
  • Poisonwood (Metopium toxiferum)
  • Back to Top Page Last Edited: Thu May 16, 2013 4:57:11 PM

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