Chapter I: The Value of Florida’s State Forests

Working Together in the Wild

A Number of Elements Define Which Life Forms Survive

Gopher Tortoise
Florida’s herbivorous gopher tortoise can live between 40 and 60 years in the wild, spreading many plants’ seeds in their droppings.

The tree species that greeted Ponce de Leon upon his discovery of Florida five centuries ago remain much the same today. Florida’s state forests are home not only to the bottomland hardwoods but to longleaf and slash pines, sometimes embedded with cypress and bay, dispersed among sawgrass swamp, scrubs, pinelands and even occasional patches of sandhills.

Such wide-ranging soils support equally varied wildlife: gopher tortoise, sandhill cranes, white-tailed deer, bobcat, and America’s bald eagle. The gopher tortoise, a threatened species, isn’t alone in this unstable state; the red-cockaded woodpecker, scrub jay, and indigo snake also share its unfortunate distinction.

Scrub Jay
The scrub jay, found only in Florida, vies with citrus growers and developers for the high, dry habitat it needs to stay alive.

In an ecosystem, many life systems are interdependent. The frequency of fires in a region, changes in elevation, the level of salt in regional water, and the soil type there determine what type of ecosystem remains. Florida’s unique combination of habitats forms an interrelated society of plant and animal species. The dangers facing all the life forms under the trees’ canopy pose a serious challenge to all who value the forests’ natural beauty.

Next: Florida’s Forests Face Many Threats