One of the delights of outdoor recreation in Florida are the tropical forests – we call them tropical hammocks – that grace our coastline from the central part of the state south into the Florida Keys. Florida is the only place you can hike, bike, or paddle through a tropical forest in the continental United States. Many of the trees you find in these forests have their origins from Caribbean islands. In fact, the forests of the Florida Keys look identical to those you’ll find in the Bahamas.
Because of the persistent humidity found in the strand swamps of Southwest Florida, certain orchids and bromeliads are found that won’t be seen elsewhere in the United States, such as the ghost orchid and Guzmania. Jagged limestone karst found throughout Southeast Florida hosts upland tropical forests that look like a wall of trees in places. It’s on smooth-barked trees in these forests that our endangered Liguus tree snails can be seen.
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Know Before You Go
You shouldn’t go off-trail in a tropical forest, since there are two very toxic species of tropical trees in Florida that you need to be on the lookout for: the poisonwood and the manchineel. They are dangerous just to brush against, and their fruit can be deadly to humans, although it sustains the endangered white-crowned pigeon found in the Florida Keys.
The trees and shrubs found in Florida’s tropical forests are generally unlike those found in any other habitats in Florida. They include some of the heaviest, densest woods known on earth – including ironwood and lignum vitae – as well as a host of tropical plums (which include the deadly ones mentioned above) and shrubs that are tolerant to salt and heat.
Best Tropical Hikes in Florida
These are among the best places to immerse yourself in a tropical forest in Florida