Scrub Discovery Nature Trail
Home Trail Map Introduction Saw Palmetto Scrub Oaks Scrub and Saw Palmetos Blueberries and Fetterbush Fallen Sand Pine Prickly Pear Cactus Small Clearing Sand Pines Pawpaw South Florida Slash Pine Gopher Apple Bridge and Ditch Nest Box Lichens and Contrasting Pines Altered Drainage Turkey Oak Scrub Hickory Silk Bay Open Scrubby Flatwoods and Rusty Lyonia Sugar Sand Weather Station

9
Pawpaw


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Scrub Pawpaws (Asimina obovata) are on the left side of the trail. Like many scrub species, this pawpaw differs from its woodland relatives by having thick leathery leaves with a heavy water conserving wax layer. The cream-colored flowers appear in the spring, have a fruity odor, and are pollinated by scarab beetles. The seeds are dispersed by fruit-eating mammals.





10
South Florida Slash Pine

Slash Pine
Pinus elliottii
Slash Pine
art by M Deyrup


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Slash Pines have long needles and thicker terminal twigs. The bark is thick and provides protection from rapidly burning ground fires. The South Florida Slash Pine is very similar in appearance and ecology to Longleaf Pine (P. palustris). Like Longleaf Pine, it forms open stands over a low ground cover of palmettos, grasses, and herbs. South Florida Slash Pine is well adapted to fire. Young plants have a "grass stage" when there is little top growth but extensive root system development. After several years, the plants suddenly grow rapidly into the canopy. This growth pattern minimizes the length of time in which the growing point and foliage of the tree are highly vulnerable to ground fires. Populations of Slash Pines off the Ridge in central and northern Florida do not have this growth pattern. Slash pines may live up to 200 years. The oldest Slash Pine at the Station is 170 years old (aged by taking a sample of the core of the tree through the use of a boring tool called a core borer). Myrtle Oaks are also abundant in this area. Individuals can be seen on either side of the Marker.

Fire


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In recent years, fire ecology has become a major area of research at the Archbold Biological Station. This patch of 5.8 acres of scrubby flatwoods was burned on 29 October 1990. Although some of the pines have died, most of the other plants have resprouted or seeded in. Central Florida is the lightning capital of the U.S. due to Florida's summer weather patterns. Thunderstorms occur throughout the year but especially during May - September. Lightning fires start when a bolt of lightning strikes outside the area of rainfall, or ignites fuel that smolders until the rain ends and the leaf litter dries. Before the pioneers came to Florida, scrub vegetation burned freely and regularly. We now know that scrub becomes over-grown and loses its diversity if not burned every 20-40 years or so. Many of the endemic organisms of scrub cannot live in unburned areas.

Prescribed Burning


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Fire has always been a part of most Florida habitats. Frequent lightning strikes, combined with a pronounced dry season, have always caused many wildfires. Plants and animals of scrub, flatwoods and other habitats have evolved adaptations to fire. The oaks, palmettos, grasses, and many other plants sprout rapidly from growing points protected in the sand. Other species, such as Florida Rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides), are killed by fire but recover from seeds that germinate following fire. Sand Pine seeds are stored in cones on the tree for decades, and are released when heat from fire melts a wax coating and allows the pine cones to open. Many organisms depend on the open, post-fire conditions to survive, including the Florida Scrub Jay, which begins to disappear once scrub stands grow head-high and sandy areas become shaded. At Archbold, this happens about 20 years or so after fire. In the Twentieth Century, fire suppression and man-made fire barriers between natural habitats (such as roads, housing developments, citrus groves, etc.)

Florida Scrub Jay
Aphelocoma coerulescens
Florida Scrub-Jay
art © Turid Forsyth
have decreased the extent of fires.

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This has allowed many areas to develop dense thickets of tall shrubs and trees. At Archbold and on many public lands, prescribed fires restore and manage natural ecosystems and provide habitat for endangered and threatened species.

To your left, as you walk the Nature Trail, is an area that was burned in December 1992, after over 60 years without fire. You will see areas that have not burned, have lightly burned, or have burned with high intensity. This variation is typical of fires in Florida Scrub. You will also observe the recovery of the vegetation and perhaps flowering displays stimulated by burning. For contrast, on your right you will first pass a strip of vegetation long-unburned, and later, from Markers #10 to #20, an area burned in the fall of 1990.

11
Gopher Apple


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Gopher Apple (Lycania michauxii) is the low plant with shiny yellow-green leaves forming an extensive mat to the right of the Marker. The individual shoots are connected by underground woody stems. A spring bloomer, its flowers are highly attractive to bees and wasps. The fruits are eaten by wild mammals and Gopher Tortoises, and are edible for humans.

12
Bridge and Ditch


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The bridge and rock-lined drainage ditch were built by John Roebling in the early 1930s, in preparation for developing the area as his estate. Mindful of the frequent natural disasters in the area, and unaware of the adaptations of native organisms to deal with these disturbances, he protected his land from both flood and fire. This area is now much drier than it used to be. Both John and Margaret Roebling had a great interest in native plants and animals. Highlands Hammock State Park, just west of Sebring, was another Roebling project.


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After crossing the bridge, you will walk along an area of thick palmettos on your right-hand side. Palmettos such as these often serve as daytime refuge areas for Opossums (Dideiphis marsupiahs), Raccoons (Procyon lotor), and other nocturnal animals. Keep a lookout for other clues to the presence of mammals such as holes dug for food, runways in the sand or leaf litter, scats, and of course, animal tracks.

You may wonder if you will see a snake. If you are very lucky you might get a glimpse of one of the more common snakes that live in this area, the Indigo (Drymarchon corais couperi), Black Racer (Coluber constrictor priapus) or Coachwhip (Masticophis f. flagellum), but it is far more likely that you will not see one along this trail.

13
Nest Box


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The nest box on this pine is one of many used in long-term monitoring of populations of cavity-nesting vertebrates. Residents of these boxes are captured, counted, measured, weighted, marked, and released. Nest boxes are used by Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), Southern Flying Squirrels (Glaucomys volans), Eastern Screech-owls (Otus asio), Great Crested Flycatchers (Myiarchus crinitus), American Kestrels (Falco sparverius), and occasionally other birds, bees, and various other invertebrates. These boxes form important nest sites in areas where natural cavities are scarce.

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Lichens and Contrasting Pines

Sand Pine
Pinus clausa
Sand Pine
art by M Deyrup

On the far side of the ditch is a patch of ground lichens. The open areas colonized by these lichens are remarkably persistent. They may be areas in which the ground was burned so severely by fires that oaks have been unable to colonize them. Look to the left
lichen
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to see a good place to compare the long-needled Slash Pine and short-needled Sand Pine. Note that the Sand Pines have a softer, more rounded appearance, often without the single tall, straight trunk of a Slash Pine. Branches on the Slash Pines tend to look somewhat like bottle-brushes. The lower branches of Slash Pines disappear after fire or through self pruning, leaving the tall bare trunks.

Slash Pine
Pinus elliottii
Slash Pine
art by M Deyrup

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