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Department of Biological Science

at Florida State University

Field Guide Overview

Dominant Flora of the Ground Cover in Pine Forests of the Apalachicola National Forest

by Jennifer Weeks, Brett M. Carlisle, and Bart C. Kicklighter

The Apalachicola National Forest (ANF) in the Florida Panhandle (Leon, Wakulla, Liberty, and Franklin Counties) is dominated by longleaf Pinus palustris forests. These forests were described by early travelers as open, park-like stands of pines with a grassy understory. Anthropogenic activities within the last century have greatly fragmented these forests. Timber activities removed over 90 percent of the mature pines in the 1920's and altered the structural complexity of the understory that was originally characteristic of the natural ecosystem.

This ecosystem is maintained by frequent, low-intensity fires. These fires are facilitated by the pyrogenic nature of wiregrass Aristida stricta. This grass will carry a fire even when it is lush and green and it resprouts within days after a burn. In addition, wiregrass will only produce seed after a spring or summer fire. In the absence of fire, hardwood species are released from suppression and outcompete many components of the ground cover, including young longleaf pines.

These forests are of special interest to biologists because they contain many threatened and endangered plants and animals including the Red-cockaded Woodpecker, Gopher Tortoise, various orchids and carnivorous plants.

This field guide was created for use in identifying dominant (>5%) components of the understory in the longleaf pine forests of the ANF. It was prepared for use by students who will make seasonal transects, obtaining data on changes in understory vegetation subjected to different combinations of dormant and growing season prescribed burns. This guide emphasizes woody understory components of the forests and is not a comprehensive guide to the flora of the ANF. Descriptions are simplified versions of descriptions found in Guide to the Vascular Plants of the Florida Panhandle (Clewell 1985); Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines of Northern Florida and Adjacent Georgia and Alabama (Godfrey 1988); and Florida Wildflowers (Taylor 1992). We have assigned four-letter acronyms to each species. In some cases, our system of acronyms does not distinguish among closely-related species (eg. Cliftonia monophylla and Cyrilla racemiflora are both TITI).