Platt Branch - Habitat and Management

photo of pine flatwoods
Longleaf pine flatwoods

Flatwoods cover 68 percent of Platt Branch and mesic flatwoods dominate this classification. These old-growth longleaf pines, with their understory of palmetto and wiregrass, are at the southern limit of their range. Few examples of this habitat remain in southern Florida. Another major flatwoods community is called "cutthroat grass seep," a wetter habitat associated with seepage slopes and drainage swales from surrounding ridges. Restricted to just a few counties in central Florida, cutthroat grass grows beneath slash pine.

Scrub communities occur in well-drained sandy soils and include oak scrub, scrubby flatwoods, sand pine scrub, and xeric hammock. Generally, these plant communities feature longleaf pine or sand pine in the canopy, sand live oak, myrtle oak, and Chapman's oak in the midstory and a relatively open understory. In the scrub oak habitat, an understory of lichens and a midstory of rosemary, rusty lyonia, scrub hickory and scrub palm is typical.

The two dominant wetland types found here are freshwater marsh and cypress swamp. Maidencane, St. John's wort, sawgrass, pickerelweed and water lilies characterize the marshes. The cypress swamps, which border Fisheating Creek and Platt Branch, have scattered bald cypress, black gums, red maples and cabbage palms with an understory of ferns, sparse sawgrass and other wetland grasses and sedges.

Management

Cutthroat Grass Seep
Cutthroat grass seep

Platt Branch was acquired using funds paid by developers through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Mitigation Park Program. The program is designed to compensate for habitat lost to development elsewhere. The management focus seeks to maintain and enhance listed wildlife, particularly the gopher tortoise, Florida scrub-jay and red-cockaded woodpecker, along with natural plant communities such as the old-growth longleaf pine flatwoods, which are at the southern limit of their range here. Few examples of this habitat remain in southern Florida.

In mature flatwoods, regular prescribed burns will diminish hardwoods in the midstory and encourage the flowering and abundance of grasses. Areas with naturally regenerating pines, such as flatwoods that were previously timbered, will be thinned, if necessary and managed with prescribed burns. Cleared pastures with scattered pine trees, will be managed to reduce the growth of wax myrtles in the midstory and encourage the spread of pines. Scrub habitat will be maintained with periodic fire. The natural colonization of oaks into pastures that were formerly scrub will be managed with periodic fire and mechanical methods to restore the open aspect of the canopy and bare ground necessary for foraging and acorn caching by scrub-jays.



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