Know Your Native Plants:
A Sense of Place
at Florida Gulf Coast University
Ecological Transition Zones
Due to a subtropical climate, the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University showcases ecological settings which make our campus, and Southwest Florida as a whole, unique. The local landscape is characterized by a vast network of interconnected cypress forests and marshes, pine flatwoods, and transitional zones between "uplands" and areas of lower elevation. These transitional zones can be observed along the boardwalks between Parking Lot 7 and Whitaker Hall, as well as between Academic Building 3 and Parking Lot 3.
Each boardwalk features Pine uplands, which are typically found in "higher" elevations; in Southwest Florida, "higher" elevations could amount to differences in mere inches. Pinelands generally occupy well-drained soils, which are comprised of a loose, sandy substrate. Pinewoods in Southwest Florida can hold water after heavy rain events. Vegetation here generally consists of a Slash Pine canopy, with an understory of Saw Palmetto, Wax Myrtle, and Dahoon Holly.
Uplands transition then to mixed Pine/ Cypress forests, which are found at elevations between uplands and wetlands. Soils here typically hold more water after rain events than upland systems, and do not support a diverse understory- Wax Myrtle, Saltbush, and a variety of grasses and herbs.
The Pine/ Cypress system then transitions to the Cypress forest, at the lowest terrestrial elevation along either boardwalk. Bald Cypress trees dominate, with an understory of Wax Myrtle and Swamp Fern. Also, keep an eye out for epiphytes- plants which grow on trees all along the boardwalks, and include several members of the family Bromeliaceae, which includes pineapples. Also, epiphytic orchids such as Butterfly Orchids are prevalent throughout wetland forests on campus.
Cypress forests are capable of sustaining complete inundation by water for more than half the year at least. Anoxic soil conditions force plants to develop unique adaptations for surviving in poorly oxygenated soils. Such adaptations include hollow stems and rhizomes in grasses, plus means for exchange of gases between plants and the atmosphere, such as pores in the bark of some tree species.
Finally, Cypress forests can transition to fringe marshes and lakes. Fringe marshes comprise of a variety of reeds and rushes along the shallow edges, or littoral zones, of lakes. Meanwhile, as the lake deepens, water lilies and floating hearts take root, and provide habitat for the turtles, fish, and alligators who call these lakes home.
Enjoy your walk...
Take the FGCU campus boardwalk tour!
This project was made possible by a grant from the QEP at Florida Gulf Coast University
Produced by the Inland Ecology Research Group (IERG) at FGCU