Many of my hikes and images are shot in this ecosystem, and I adore these trees — but in all honesty, show me a tree I don’t love!
Pine flatwoods represent the most extensive ecosystem in Florida, and are distributed over 50% of the state’s land area. As their name implies, flatwoods have a low and flat topography, punctuated by differing kinds of pine, depending where you are in the state. I’m in the south, so it’s the slash pine that dominates this habitat!
Slash Pines and Saw Palmetto of the Pine Flatwoods in Atlantic Ridge Preserve State Park
These flatwoods, or pine barrens, were created by changes in the sea level during glacial times — as the sea levels increased, expanses of land flooded, and sand was deposited. As the waters receded, early species such as pine trees were able to establish themselves in the sandy soil.
Pine flatwoods are consistent: Layered, with high canopies of pines, a lower shrubby layer, and an herbaceous layer. They’re dotted with cypress domes (a cypress swamp in the shape of a dome), cabbage palm flatwoods, marshes, and other habitats. This is truly a fascinating ecosystem, and one that weaves so many others together.
And while today’s flatwoods are less extensive, with more shrubby groundcover than in times past, they continue to be a vital ecosystem in Florida, covering vast expanses of land. Beginning in the 1950s, developers here discovered that this land was easy to cut and clear in enormous swaths — sadly, they haven’t forgotten. Doesn’t the world needs another empty strip mall and golf course?
Flatwoods rely on controlled, or prescribed burning to maintain its community of pines, grasses, and herbs — and to prevent the forest from being overgrown. Controlled burns are vital to new growth, as well. Pine flatwoods continue to be fascinating areas to hike, each one being new; you never knows when you’ll encounter a swamp, open flatwood, or more of these beautiful trees — or the wonderful wildlife this ecosystem supports….
Controlled Burned and Thriving Slash Pines at Bluefield Ranch Natural Area
To learn more about the Pine flatwoods, visit: