Flora and Fauna of Northwest Florida

Biology Department

University of West Florida

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Upland Hardwood Forest

Upland hardwoods on the Baars-Firestone Nature Trail, UWF campus, located in a gradient between pine sandhill and swamp forest of the Escambia River and its tributaries.

An Io moth caterpillar (Automeris io) munches on Live Oak Leaves. These caterpillars have poison in the branched appendages along its back that cause massive swelling and pain on contact.


On the campus of the University of West Florida, there is remnant pine sandhill that has not seen fire in many years, hardwoods along hillsides and ravines, and swamp forest along the flood plain of Thompson Bayou, Ferry Pass Bayou and the Escambia River. The hardwood forests here are referred to as "mixed mesophytic", meaning moderate in moisture level, between Xerophytic (like the pine sand hill: dry), and Hydrophytic (like the swamp forest: wet). The mixed part comes from a mixture of deciduous trees like tulip poplar, Beech, Hickory, and Sparkleberry, and evergreen trees like Spruce Pine, Live Oak, Laurel Oak, and Magnolia.

One of the dominant physical characteristics of hardwood forests is the stratification. The largest mature trees form a canopy at the top of the forest where they get maximum light exposure. Saplings of canopy trees are often found in a suppressed state under the canopy because of shading, but can rapidly respond to light gaps resulting from the death of a canopy tree. In the next level of stratification are the understory trees. These species are shade tolerant, existing on filtered light (Dogwood, Magnolia, Sparkleberry). Understory shrubs are found below these trees, and are even more shade tolerant (Elliots Blueberry, Florida Anise). On The forest floor are found the ground cover plants that exist on very low light levels (Partridge Berry, Reindeer Moss, Ferns). As much as 95% of the light hitting the canopy is filtered out by the time it reaches the forest floor. Vines and Epiphytes form a special category of plants mechanically dependent on the large trees to reach the canopy (Lianas, Briar, Grape)

In an undisturbed forest (at equilibrium), nutrient availability is dependent on mineralization of detritus (dead plant material) on the forest floor Less than 5% of annual production consumed by herbivores, the rest falls to the forest floor where it is subject to mechanical and biological breakdown. On the forest floor there is a thick organic layer over the mineral soil with a gradient from "litter" (whole leaves/branches) on top to broken fragments over a felt-like mat of intertwined roots and fungi (mycorrhizae and saprophytes). Most of the plant roots in the forest are in this layer on top of the mineral soil (A horizon). That is why clearing forest land usually kills any trees that are left: most of the feeder roots are destroyed. It is in this organic layer that mineralization of fallen leaves and twigs occurs, returning the nutrients to the living plants in a tight recyling.


Dominant Plant Species:

Large Trees

Live Oak

Quercus virginiana

Laurel Oak

Quercus hemispherica

Southern Red Oak

Quercus falcata falcata

Water Oak

Quercus nigra

Spruce Pine

Pinus glabra


Magnolia grandiflora


Fagus grandifolia

Tulip Poplar

Liriodendron tulipifera


Carya spp.



Vaccinnia arboreum

Wild Blueberry

Vaccinnia elliotii


Amelanchier arborea


Cornis florida


Ilex vomitoria


Persea borbonia


Crateagus spp.


Green Briar

Smilax spp.

Muscadine Grape

Vitis rotundifolia

Carolina Jasmine

Gelsemium sempervirens


Rubus sp.

Trumpet vine


Poison Ivy

Toxidendron spp.

Forest floor

Saw Palmetto

Serona repens

Partrige Berry

Mitchella repens

False Reindeer Lichen

Cladonia sp.



Bracken Fern

Pteridium aquilinum



Gray Squirrel

Scirius carolinensis


Didelphis virginiana


Procyon lotor

Striped Skunk

Mephitis mephitis

Whitetailed deer

Odocoileus virginianus



Eastern Glass Lizard

Ophisaurus ventralis

Green Anole

Anolis carolinensis

Five-lined Skink

Eumeces fasciatus

Southern Black Racer

Coluber constrictor priapus





White Marked Tussock Moth

Orgyia leucostigma

Polyphemus Moth

Antherea polyphemus