Hammock is a Florida term for a dense forest that is not a pine flatwoods, and can be made up of oaks, cabbage palms, or oaks with mixed hardwoods like holly, southern magnolia, and elm. Hardwood hammock describes a forest of mixed hardwoods.
In North Florida and Northwest Florida, you’ll walk through river bluff and steephead ravine environments that undergo constant reshaping by the forces of erosion. They are rugged places, as close to mountain hiking as you’ll get in Florida. Dominant plants include sparkleberry (distinctive with its peeling reddish bark), American holly, Southern magnolia, sweetgum, cypresses, and fragrant wild azalea; in the western parts of the Panhandle, expect to encounter mountain laurel and rhododendron as well.
The oak hammock, frequently dominated by live oak, is Florida’s climax forest.
Gently rolling pine-topped sandhills of white to orange sand begin in Central Florida and extend up into Northwest Florida’s Panhandle, supporting forests of oaks and longleaf pine. The forest floor is carpeted with wiregrass, and there is little understory, allowing for extensive views under the forest canopy. Forming a protective layer over Florida’s limestone karst bedrock, sandhills soak up rainfall and allow it to recharge the underlying aquifers.
Clayhills host the same plant communities on a base of thick red clay. This habitat is always dry, so you’ll never get your feet wet, but access to water may be scarce.
No other natural community covers as much of Florida’s landscape as pine flatwoods, which come in many varieties, from the rare pine rocklands on the jagged exposed karst islands of the Florida Keys and Everglades to the swampy cabbage palm flatwoods found throughout South Florida, and the longleaf pine forests of North Florida and the Panhandle.
Pine flatwoods can be xeric (dry) to mesic (seasonally wet). A clay layer beneath the flatwoods in the northern part of the state is responsible for poor drainage; you’ll always slog down the trail in pine flatwoods after a rain.
Scrubby flatwoods, a common transition zone between pine flatwoods and scrub, is a xeric community supporting plants that are drought-tolerant. With acidic, poorly drained soils supporting ferns, gallberry, saw palmetto, and a high canopy of tall pine trees, pine flatwoods feel very open.
Cabbage palm flatwoods are the most common flatwoods of South Florida. They intersperse cabbage palms through a canopy of pond or slash pines, and occur in floodplain areas. Scrubby flatwoods have better drainage than most pine flatwoods, but the pines have more space between them, forming breaks in the canopy.
Pine rocklands are Florida’s most endangered habitat, where scrawny slash pines form the high canopy, poisonwood thrives in the understory, and limestone-loving ferns grow from the exposed karst.
Only in South Florida will you encounter the tropical hardwood hammock, which starts out with a subtropical base of strangler fig and cabbage palm and, depending on the environment, adds on Caribbean trees such as gumbo limbo, mahogany, paradise tree, and satinleaf.