All along Florida’s east coast, the Atlantic Coastal Ridge is a special place. Atop these limestone bluffs – which dramatically outcrop along the Atlantic Ocean in places like House of Refuge, Blowing Rocks, Coral Cove, and Coconut Grove – are ancient sands upon which you’ll find ancient scrub forests – in the places that haven’t been developed, of course. Indrio Scrub is one such spot, at the northern end of St. Lucie County halfway between Vero Beach and Fort Pierce. With rolling, sandy hills separating the freshwater savannas of Indrio Savannahs from the salty, mangrove-lined Indian River Lagoon, it’s a place where unique scrub species thrive.
Length: 0.5 mile
Fees / Permits: None
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
For more information: Indiro Scrub Preserve
From Fort Pierce, follow US 1 north; from Vero Beach, follow US 1 south. From I-95, take the Indrio Road exit. In all cases, you end up at the intersection of Indrio Road and US 1. Drive east to CR 605, the Old Dixie Highway. Turn north and pass Michigan Street. The trailhead parking will be on your right next to the railroad tracks, with the trail starting across the street.
Now this is a scrub. Having headed here after hiking Indrio Savannahs, some of which is a scrub forest, it was a delight to enter this ancient scrub. Signposted as a half-mile interpretive trail at the beginning, there is a brochure (which you can download – http://www.stlucieco.gov/pdfs/Indrio_Scrub_Brochure_New.pdf ) with accompanying interpretive information about the plant life along the loop. I started this hike with a search for Lakela’s Mint (Dicerandra immaculata) in mind, since it is one of very few places that this endangered endemic scrub mint is found.
Although this trail is short, the highlights along it are diminutive, making this somewhere you stop, look, and smell the tiny plants. Don’t get your nose too close to touch-me-not, however, since its tiny white flowers are atop plants covered in hairy, painful needles. The sand underfoot is bright and white. Without the interpretive markers, it would be a little tough to follow the trail, since wind blows the light sands of the ancient dunes across the footsteps of the visitors who’ve come before you.
There’s a sand live oak at interpretive marker 3, with joint-weed growing beneath it, and a scrub hickory not too far after it. The trail makes a right turn in front of a tall sand pine and gets into more scrub oaks – the myrtle oak, with teardrop-shaped leaves, and the Chapman oak, with leaves that are more rippled. Watch for gopher tortoise burrows where the slope is sharp, and you might see their own little trails through the sand.
After marker 6, you enter a patch of shade, where ferns flourish under oaks with wind-sculpted branches. Heading uphill, there’s a patch of cedar trees, dense with berries, and lichens below them. The further uphill you hike, as the trail twists and winds its way up the ridge, the more scrubby it gets, with prickly pear cactus in the understory.
Love vine, with its net of orange and green tendrils, cascades over understory plants. The pine trees are taller at the top of the ridge, although many have fallen, perhaps due to pine bark beetle. Yellow sulfurs flit between the lantana. Another large gopher tortoise burrow sits beneath the trees. Periwinkle shows off its blooms. You pass the mid-point of the trail in this confusing top-of-ridge area, where it’s easy to lose the trail, before the landscape transitions into a denser forest more typical of this region, with wild coffee and beautyberry in the understory.
Marker 16 is in the middle of a forest of scrub hickory, where you reach a trail junction with the incoming part of the loop. Turn right and follow the flagging tape to walk past a stand of gopher apple and hog plum. The trail ends after a half mile back at the Old Dixie Highway. Cross the road to return to the trailhead.