A short walk on the rolling hills of the Lakes Wales Ridge takes you through a variety of natural communities. Scrub and sandhill grade to seasonal ponds, bayheads, and lakeshores.
Scrub Morining Glory
The most distinctive natural community on the Lake Wales Ridge is scrub, home to one of the rarest collections of plants and animals in the world. Healthy scrub has the appearance of a miniature forest with trees seldom taller than 10 feet and open patches of sand.
Many of the tracts within the Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area are platted housing developments or have been used for grazing, citrus or other agricultural uses and surely would have been more intensely developed if not for state purchase. Preservation of remaining natural areas on the Lake Wales Ridge is critical to the Floridan aquifer, the principal source of the state's drinking water. Rainfall percolates through the ridge's thick, sandy soils and recharges the Floridan aquifer. The ridge is dotted with sinkhole lakes, testament to the connection between groundwater and surface water.
Historically, sandhill was found on the highest ridges, characterized by an overstory of turkey oak, scrub hickory, south Florida slash pine, and an occasional longleaf pine. Lack of fire has resulted in dense xeric hammocks dominated by scrub oaks and scrub hickory, sometimes with sand pine. Several endemics exist in this habitat, including Curtis' milkweed and pigeon-wing. These should proliferate with the return of frequent fires.
The primary management goal for the Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area is to protect, restore, and maintain native habitats and the threatened and endangered plant and animal species they support. Fire suppression over many years has resulted in declines in populations of many of these species including the Florida scrub-jay. An aggressive prescribed fire program has been instituted to benefit native habitats. Non-native invasive plant species also threaten native species and are being removed. Patches of improved pastures, areas with altered hydrology, and other heavily disturbed sites will be managed in an effort to restore native communities.