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Trees in hardwood hammocks rarely grow to more than 50′ (15 m) due to inclement weather.

Epiphyte Bromeliad. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
Epiphyte Bromeliad. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
Gumbo limbo tree. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
Gumbo limbo tree. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey


The tallest trees in hardwood hammocks, including the wild tamarind (Lysiloma latisiliqua) and gumbo limbo (Bursera simaruba), rarely grow more than 50 feet (15 m) in height due to cold weather, lightning, and strong winds. Mature hammocks form dense canopies, shading the internal environment from strong sunlight and maintaining a high level of humidity. Ferns and mosses thrive along the ground within this environment while bromeliads and orchids grow along the trunks and branches of the hammock trees.

The midstory of the hammock is occuppied by smaller trees of the same species occurring in the canopy as well as some smaller tree species such as cinnamon bark (Canella winterana) and white stopper (Eugenia axillaris).

Wild coffee. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
Wild coffee. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
Saw palmetto. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey
Saw palmetto. Photo courtesy U.S. Geological Survey


Beneath the midstory lies the understory which includes saplings of some canopy species as well as shrubs such as wild coffee (Psychotria undata) and white indigoberry (Randia aculeata). Other vegetation types include woody shrubs and vines with groundcover being very limited due to the lack of sunlight reaching the ground.

The outer edge of the hammock is densely wooded with vegetation requiring high levels of sunlight. This thick growth along the edges of the hammock maintains high humidity levels and cooler temperatures inside the hammock.

Species growing along the edges of hammocks include:

Poisonwood (Metopium toxiferum). Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Poisonwood (Metopium toxiferum). Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Sweet acacia (Acacia farnesiana). Photo © Keith Haworth
Sweet acacia (Acacia farnesiana). Photo © Keith Haworth
Fire Bush (Hamelia patens). Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District
Fire Bush (Hamelia patens). Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District


Native Fauna

White-tail deer. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
White-tail deer. Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wildlife residing in hardwood hammocks are mostly of temperate origin rather than tropical, in contrast to the characteristic plantlife. There has been no land connection with the West Indies, thereby limiting wildlife to those able to fly or to survive crossing the open seas.

Wildlife commonly sighted within hammocks include:

Invertebrates

Reptiles and Amphibians

Birds

Mammals

More rarely observed is the endangered Florida panther (Felis concolor coryi) as well as the Jamaica fruit bat (Artibeus jamaicensis) and Florida mastiff bat (Eumops glaucinus floridanus).


Glossary terms on page: