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Endemic Ecosystems


Like nowhere else on Earth. Florida offers numerous unique biomes of biodiversity.

Featured Endemic Ecosystem: The Lake Wales Ridge Scrub

Florida scrub is a shrub community characterized by three species of evergreen scrub oaks (Quercus spp.), a needle-leaved shrub called Florida rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides) and the short-needled sand pine (Pinus clausa). Although largely restricted to Florida, scrub habitat is found nearly throughout the state, occurring on dry, sterile, sandy ridges.

These hilly ridges are the remains of ancient sand dunes that formed during earlier geologic episodes of higher sea levels. The Lake Wales Ridge is the oldest of these beach and sand dune systems, extending southward from Orange County to southern Highlands County.

Scrub sites on the Ridge harbor a wealth of rare plants and animals, as well as endemic species found nowhere else in the world. Among 27 rare scrub plants, 13 are endemic to the Lake Wales Ridge. Peninsular Florida scrub supports 56 endemic arthropods, including spiders, grasshoppers, beetles, millipedes and ants. The range of at least one scrub insect, the Highlands tiger beetle (Cicindela highlandensis), is confined to the Lake Wales Ridge.

Many common Ridge and peninsular scrub plants differ from their close relatives that grow in less arid Florida habitats. Scrub plants are generally shorter in stature and they have smaller leaves.  Distinct species include scrub hickory (Carya floridana), scrub palmetto (Sabal etonia), scrub holly (Ilex opaca var. arenicola), scrub bay (Persea borbonia var. humilis), scrub wild olive (Osmanthus megacarpus), scrub plum (Prunus geniculata) and scrub oak (Quercus inopina), whose largest populations exist on the Ridge.

The main threat to scrub habitat on the Lake Wales Ridge is from development for housing and agriculture.  Of the original 80,000 acres of scrub and other upland habitats on the Ridge, more than 85 percent of these lands are currently developed.  The state and Federal governments, including non-profit organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, are making a concerted effort to purchase scrub habitats along the Lake Wales Ridge. Since 1980, these agencies have assembled a network of scrub sites totaling more than 16,000 acres. One of the best places in central Florida to see the scrub community type is Lake-June-in-Winter State Park, located in southern Highlands County.

Learn More about Lake Wales Ridge Scrub:

Archbold Biological Station’s website section on Florida’s Ancient Islands

Provides map of protected sites on the Lakes Wales Ridge (under Lake Wales Ridge Working Group) as well as a list of agencies that manage them.

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Floridata database has a site on the Florida scrub maintained by Steve Christman.

Provides overview descriptions of scrub plants and animals as well as photos and descriptions of individual scrub species, both common and rare.

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