Principal Habitats

Excellent examples of Lake Wales Ridge upland habitats

Virtually all the Archbold Biological Station's 5,200-acre main property is in pristine natural condition, and the Station's original property (1,000-acre Roebling Red Hill estate) has never been logged or turpentined. The Station contains excellent examples of all the original upland habitats of the Lake Wales Ridge. see also: a) Abrahamson, W.G., et al. 1984. Vegetation of the Archbold Biological Station, Florida: an example of the southern Lake Wales Ridge. Florida Scientist 47:209-250.--PDF file; and b) Florida Natural Areas Inventory's list of natural communities of Florida.

The Reserve property, acquired in 2002, contains many of the same habitat types as the Station, but these areas are scattered and often disturbed due to previous land practices. The Reserve also has extensive areas that were converted to pastures for cattle grazing. The Reserve lies on the edge of the Lake Wales Ridge. Remnant patches of scrub grade down into areas of cutthroat seep and down further into bayheads.

Southern Ridge Sandhill

This slash pine/wiregrass variant of a widespread ecosystem is endemic to the southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge, where it has been nearly eliminated for citrus cultivation. This ecosystem is characterized by frequent, low-intensity fires. One of the best remaining examples of this unique association occurs on Archbold property.

Sandhill habitat on Red Hill. Photo by Kevin Main. © Archbold Biological Station, 2004.

Sand Pine Scrub

This dry scrub habitat is dominated by a mixture of scrub oaks (Quercus spp.), staggerbush (Lyonia spp), and scrub hickory (Carya floridana), often under a dense canopy of sand pine (Pinus clausa). This association burns infrequently, about once every 20+ years, so the understory vegetation is often very dense and difficult to move through.

Sand Pine Scrub Habitat on Red Hill in 1997, following 70 years of fire exclusion. Photo by Kevin Main. © Archbold Biological Station, 1997.
Sand Pine Scrub Habitat on Red Hill showing damage done by Hurricanes Charlie and Jean in 2004. Photo by Kevin Main. © Archbold Biological Station, 2004.

Oak Hickory Scrub

This habitat occurs only on yellow sand ridges. The dense vegetation is primarily a mix of scrub oaks and scrub hickory. It is similar in structure to Sand Pine Scrub, but usually with only a scattered sand pine and slash pine (Pinus elliottii) overstory.

Oak Hickory Scrub burns infrequently. A fire may occur only once every 10-20 years or more. As a result, this habitat is often very dense. Photo by Kevin Main. © Archbold Biological Station, 2004.

Rosemary Scrub

One of the most distinctive plant communities in the United States, this shrubby formation harbors an exceptionally high density of locally endemic, endangered plant species. Within this association, open sandy knolls are often dominated by nearly pure stands of Florida rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides). Over 100 "rosemary balds" occur on Archbold property, one of the finest protected expanses of this habitat in Florida.

Rosemary Scrub in the west section of the Station. Even many years post-fire this habitat will retain an open structure with many sand gaps. Photo by Reed Bowman. © Archbold Biological Station, 2003.

Scrubby Flatwoods

This open, regularly burned shrubland habitat is dominated by a mixture of oaks (including Archbold oak (Quercus inopina)), and palmettos, with scattered south Florida slash pine.This is the primary habitat for the Florida scrub-jay and makes up nearly 1/3 of Archbold's area. Scrubby flatwoods occur closer to the water table than rosemary scrub but are more xeric than flatwoods. They also burn at an intermediate frequency, perhaps once every 5-20 years.

Scrubby Flatwoods in the western section of the Station. This image, taken three years after a wildfire, shows how quickly the vegetation can recover from fire. Photo by Kevin Main. © Archbold Biological Station, 2004.


This is the most widespread habitat of peninsular Florida and makes up about ¼ of Archbold’s area. Closer to the water table than scrubby flatwoods, flatwoods are dominated by slash pine, saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), gallberry (Ilex glabra), and wiregrass (Aristida stricta). Flatwoods often burn several times per decade.

Flatwoods in unit 41A, two years after a fire. Photo by Kevin Main. © Archbold Biological Station. 2004.


A distinctive southern specialty, these evergreen forests of mixed bay-tree species (Gordonia lasianthus, Magnolia virginiana, Persea borbonia) occur on low, poorly drained areas with organic soils. Fire occurs rarely but can move in from surrounding flatwoods and scrubby flatwoods. Bayheads can invade long-unburned seasonal ponds.

Bayhead on the original property. Bayheads are often dense because fires are very infrequent in this community. Photo by Kevin Main. © Archbold Biological Station, 1992.

Swales and Seasonal Ponds

These grassy depressions occur where drainage is poor. Many are inundated during the summer rainy season and in wet winters. Species composition varies considerably and includes several narrowly endemic plants, such as cutthroat grass (Panicum abscissum) and Edison's St. John's wort (Hypericum edisonianum). More than 350 seasonal ponds exist at Archbold. Fire can commonly sweep across grassy ponds during dry periods, but will skip around ponds when they are flooded.

Seasonal Pond in the west section of the Station. These ponds often have distinctive zones from the pond center up into cutthroat grass before transitioning into the surrounding flatwoods and scrubby flatwoods. Photo by Kevin Main. © Archbold Biological Station, 2004.


Extensive areas of pasture are located on the Reserve. These disturbed areas were largely a mixture of cutthroat seeps and palmetto flatwoods before being altered for cattle grazing in the 1970’s. Archbold acquired this property in 2002 and is actively working on research with a focus on restoring altered systems to a more native condition. Initial work on restoring wetlands has already begun.

Extensive Bahia grass pastures continue to be grazed by cattle. Research and planning is under way to determine how to restore these areas to a condition more suitable for the many species once found here. Photo by Kevin Main. © Archbold Biological Station, 2004.