Tropical Hardwood Hammock
Tropical hardwood hammocks are one of many natural communities found in Florida, but one of the few that are characterized by tropical plants. The word “hammock” was first used by early inhabitants to mean a cool and shady place. Later, settlers of Florida used the word “hummock” to indicate areas that were slightly higher in elevation from the rest of the land. Today, the term hammock is used in Florida to describe forest habitats that are typically higher in elevation than surrounding areas and that are characterized by hardwood forests of broad-leaved evergreens. Tropical hardwood hammocks occur in south Florida and along the Florida coastlines where danger from frost is rare and tropical trees and shrubs common to the Caribbean islands are able to survive These beautiful jungle-like habitats were once common along South Florida coastlines and many inland areas. They first developed about 8,000 years ago as sea levels fell and coral reefs were exposed. The beds of coral died and left behind shelves of limestone bedrock that eventually fostered vegetation. Many of the trees and plants found in these habitats originated in the Caribbean Islands and are not found farther north. As a result, tropical hammocks represent one of the rarest plant communities in Florida. The diverse vegetation grows into a dense, wild tangle of shrubs, vines, and epiphytes under a closed canopy of evergreen hardwoods. During the late 1800s and early 1900s the forests were a source of valuable logging timber such as mahogany. Both human and natural impacts have caused such a serious decline in these habitats that they are currently listed as a threatened habitat type in Florida. All that remain today of these unusual ecosystems are 15,000 scattered acres of tropical forest that are mainly located in parks and preserves in South Florida and the Keys. Careful management and preservation of these precious natural wildlands is critical if they are to survive. Although some non-native invasive plant control in the Estate’s tropical hardwood hammock had begun prior to 1992, non-native invasive control efforts were intensified after Hurricane Andrew. Prior to receiving restoration treatment, the natural areas of the Deering Estate at Cutler were overrun with non-native invasive species such as air potato, jasmine vines, Brazilian pepper, Burma reed, seaside mahoe, Australian pine, and latherleaf. The majority of the natural areas, including rockland hammocks, on the Deering Estate at Cutler are now considered to be in maintenance condition (<5% aerial cover).