Big Cypress has five main vegetation types that we consider when it comes to fire management:
Pine forests inhabit the upland portions of the Preserve and reside on sandy soil with exposed bedrock. The pinelands are considered a sub-climax plant community maintained by fire that will succeed to a mixed hardwood forest in the absence of fire. Slash pine, saw palmetto, cabbage palm and wax myrtle are the dominant fire-adapted species found in pinelands.
Mixed Grass Prairie
The mixed grass prairies found within the Preserve are seasonally inundated with water between June and October. Muhlenbergia grass is the dominant herbaceous species and the primary carrier of fire.
Cypress forests within the Preserve can be divided into three categories; cypress domes, cypress strands and cypress prairies. Pond and bald cypress trees typically dominate strands and domes and dwarf cypress trees occupy wet prairies, although all species of cypress can be found in each of the formations. Generally all three communities are barriers to fire spread in normal climatic conditions. In drought years, water can become completely absent from cypress communities, allowing fire to move through the understory, often igniting ground fire. It is recognized that cypress trees and communities are fire dependent. Cypress trees have been found to have one of the most fire-resistant barks, as measured by its insulating properties. It is thought that without occasional drought years and fire, cypress domes and strands can become increasingly dominated by hardwood species.
Mixed Hardwood Hammocks
Hardwood hammocks are considered to be a climax community. Hardwood hammocks usually develop on elevated locations in the absence of fire. Although fire may carry through the surface litter layer, generally the root systems of hammock vegetation penetrate the sandy soils and bedrock and are protected from average fire behavior in normal climate conditions. Dominant species found in the hammocks within the Preserve include live oak, water oak, laurel oak and wild tamarind.
Marsh vegetation is extremely varied, but a given site is usually dominated by one or two species. Among the most common are pickerel weed, arrowhead, sawgrass, fire flag, cattail, and bulrush. Marshes are maintained as sub-climax associations by fire, and ponds are often created by peat fires. In the absence of fire, shrubs rapidly invade and within 5-10 years, may form a complete canopy. Marshes are considered a sub-climax plant community maintained by fire that will succeed to a mixed hardwood forest without fire.