Scrub Habitats - Titusville, Florida Scrub Habitat
The Lime Trail across the Scrub in the Enchanted Forest.
Paul A. Schmalzer,
Plant Ecologist, Dynamac Corporation,
Kennedy Space Center, FL
Florida scrub vegetation is a rare and vanishing ecosystem. Brevard County contains regionally important scrub ecosystems; these support some of the remaining populations of the Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens) and other rare, threatened, and endangered species. Scrub in Brevard County has been reduced greatly by development; for example, it is estimated that in Brevard County north of Cocoa the total area of scrub decreased by 69% between 1943 and 1991.
Scrub vegetation is associated with ridges of well drained to moderately well drained soils. Within Brevard County, scrub occurs on five distinct landscapes with different geologic histories and combinations of soils. These are: 1) the recent barrier islands including Cape Canaveral, 2) Merritt Island, 3) the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, 4) the Ten Mile Ridge, and 5) a small ridge in the southwest corner of the county. These areas differ in age and topography, but all have a similar origin as coastal dunes.
Florida scrub vegetation includes several distinctive but related vegetation types. These include sand pine scrub, rosemary scrub, oak-saw palmetto scrub, coastal scrub, and scrubby flatwoods.
Features uniting these types include:
- a shrub layer of evergreen, shrub species including myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia), Chapman oak (Q. chapmanii), sand live oak (Q. geminata), staggerbush (Lyonia fruticosa), rusty lyonia (L. ferruginea), shiny blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens), and Florida rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides);
- occurring on well-drained sites on sandy soils low in nutrients; and
- burning in periodic, intense fires.
Scrub Indicator Species
Animals that occur in scrub include:
All of these are on threatened or endangered animals lists.
- Gopher Tortoise Gopherus polyphemus
- Florida Scrub Lizard Sceloporus woodi
- Eastern Indigo Snake Drymarchon corais couperi
- Florida Scrub Jay Aphelocoma coerulescens
- Florida Mouse Podomys floridanus
The major types of scrub communities are described below.
Sand Pine Scrub. Sand pine scrub has a closed to scattered canopy of sand pine (Pinus clausa) and an understory of myrtle, Chapman, and sand live oaks, saw palmetto, rusty lyonia, and other shrubs. Florida rosemary may occur. In Brevard County, sand pine scrub is found primarily on the mainland on higher ridges of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge; only minor areas occur on Merritt Island or Cape Canaveral.
Rosemary Scrub. Rosemary scrub (rosemary bald) is typically an open shrubland dominated by Florida rosemary with numerous open, sandy areas. In Brevard County, rosemary is found with sand pine scrub and some oak scrub on the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, but areas dominated by rosemary are rare.
Oak-Saw Palmetto Scrub. Oak-saw palmetto scrub is a shrubland dominated by scrub oaks, saw palmetto, and shrubs in the heath family including rusty lyonia, staggerbush, shiny blueberry, fetterbush (Lyonia lucida), and tarflower (Befaria racemosa). Associated species may include Florida rosemary, scrub hickory (Carya floridana), and wiregrass (Aristida stricta). Oak scrub occurs on the higher ridges of Merritt Island, on the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, and on some interior sections of the barrier islands including Cape Canaveral.
Scrubby Flatwoods. Scrubby flatwoods have a shrub layer of oak-saw palmetto scrub but an open canopy of pines. On Merritt Island, South Florida slash pine (Pinus elliottii var. densa) is the canopy species). On the mainland, slash pine and longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) both occur.
Coastal Strand and Coastal Scrub. Coastal strand is a shrub community on the barrier island on recent dunes inland from the coastal dunes (sea oats [Uniola paniculata] zone). Saw palmetto, sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), nakedwood (Myrsianthes fragrans), tough buckthorn (Sideroxylon tenax), and rapanea (Myrsine cubana) are typical shrubs. Pruning of shrubs by salt spray is common. Coastal scrub is a shrub community on the barrier island inland from coastal strand where oaks become dominant. The oak is often a coastal form of live oak (Quercus virginiana). Other shrubs include saw palmetto, wax myrtle, tough buckthorn, rapanea, and Florida privet (Forestiera segregata).
Scrub and Fire || TOP ||
In the pre-settlement landscape, scrub systems were maintained by periodic fires. Scrub fires were often intense. Oaks, saw palmetto, and shrubs in the heath family sprout after burning. Scrub dominated by these sprouting species recovers rapidly after fire with little change in species composition. Sand pine is killed by fire, but sand pine has serotinous (closed) cones that open and drop seeds after being heated by fire. Florida rosemary and some other species regenerate from seed stored in the soil. Longleaf pine is well adapted to fire; mature trees survive most fires, and grass-stage juveniles are fire resistant. Mature slash pine (South Florida variety) survive many fires; juvenile slash pine are more vulnerable to fire mortality
Scrub animals avoid fire in burrows (e.g., gopher tortoise) or move out of the way (e.g., scrub jay)
- Habitat structure becomes unsuitable for scrub jays
- Herbs used for food by gopher tortoises decline
- Bare ground needed for pine reproduction is absent
- Openings required by rare plants decline
Sand Pine Burning
Click on picture to see Controled Burn and Recovery Process.
Management and Restoration || TOP ||
Scrub that has been unburned for long periods needs to be restored to support scrub-dependent plants and animals. Scrub reserves must be burned under prescribed conditions because fire cannot spread in a fragmented landscape as it once did. The habitat conditions of most of the scrub on the mainland of Brevard County is poor because it has not burned in 20-50 years.
Most scrub oaks have the potential to become tree size if unburned for sufficient time. Historically, this occurred where natural firebreaks protected a site and lead to the formation of xeric hammocks. With fire suppression and landscape fragmentation, much scrub has remained unburned for long periods. This creates serious management problems if threatened and endangered species are to be maintained. Problems include: accumulation of high fuel loads that make prescribed burning difficult and create the potential for severe wildfire, loss of obligate seeding species with limited adult life spans, and oaks reaching a size where fire will no longer kill above-ground stems. Scrub acquired for conservation management in Brevard County will require intense management.
Where fire has been excluded for long periods scrub oaks can reach heights and diameters that survive fire above-ground. Mechanical cutting combined with prescribed burning appears to be the only option to restore such areas.
Also, see our page on the Gopher Tortoise.
Scrub in the Enchanted Forest || TOP ||
The Enchanted Forest is on the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, and the scrub in the Enchanted Forest occurs:
- on a ridge between the 25 ft and 35 ft elevation contours,
- on Cocoa sand soil, a well drained, sandy soil over coquina rock.
It is an example of oak-saw palmetto scrub. Gopher tortoises, Florida scrub lizards, and indigo snakes occur in this scrub along with many typical scrub plants. The scrub ridge is narrow and surrounded by forest, making it poor habitat for Florida Scrub Jays, which do not occur on the Enchanted Forest. When acquired, the scrub ridge on the Enchanted Forest had not burned in a long time and required restoration, as illustrated in the photo. Mechanical treatment and several prescribed fires have now restored the vegetation structure to that more typical of periodically burned scrub.
Discovering Florida Scrub, a curriculum designed to give teachers and students of grades 3-5
The Florida Scrub - a vanishing natural treasure.
Florida sand pine scrub - WildWorld ecoregion profile
Studying the Impact of Elevated CO2 on a Florida Scrub-oak Ecosystem
Wild Florida - Living Treasures of the Florida Scrub
Effects of elevated CO2 on ecosystems - Smithsonian Environmental Research Center.
Lupine blooming in March.
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