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
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.