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Florida Land Steward

Florida Land Steward

Scrub and High Pine

Scrub and high pine ecosystems occur on well-drained soils and are pyrogenic -- the flora and fauna have adaptations to fire.

Scrub is maintained by high-intensity fires that occur infrequently, perhaps once every 10 to 100 years, depending on fuel loads and ignition probability.

  • Scrub

    Scrub or sand pine scrub ecosystems occur on well-drained sandy soils and are dominated by a layer of evergreen oaks, Florida rosemary, or both, with or without a pine overstory.

    Throughout its range, scrub ecosystems exhibit widely differing structures and species composition depending on soil characteristics, fire history and geographic location. For this reason, there are a number of scrub types: sand pine scrub, oak scrub, scrubby flatwoods, rosemary scrub, coastal scrub, and slash pine scrub.

    With the exception of coastal scrubs, where coastal storms influence the vegetation structure and composition, fire is the key to maintaining the scrub community. More frequent fires support oak scrub and scrubby flatwoods, while a longer period between fires maintains sand pine scrub. A fire return interval of more than 100 years may lead to xeric (dry) hardwood hammocks.

    Today, scrubs occur as fragmented relicts that are isolated from a once larger landscape that readily burned. The maintenance of scrub in preserves will require judicious application of prescribed fire. Despite successful fire management programs, some unique scrub species may be lost due to habitat size constraints.

    Visit the Discovering Florida Scrub Web site for more information about Florida's scrub ecosystem.


    The vegetation of the scrub ecosystem is typically an even-aged overstory of sand pine trees with a dense understory of oaks, saw palmetto, and other shrubs. In other cases sand pines are scattered or absent, with oaks being the dominant vegetation.

    Most of the rare endemic vegetation of Florida is associated with scrubs scattered along the central ridges of the Florida peninsula.

    Endemic Shrubs Unique to Scrub Ecosystems:

    • scrub holly (Ilex opaca var. arenicola)
    • silk bay (Persea humilis)
    • garberia (Garberia heterophylla)
    • palafoxia (Palafoxia feoyi)
    • wild olive(Osmanthus megacarpa)

    Other Shrubs:

    • myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia)
    • sand live oak (Q. geminata)
    • Chapman's oak (Q. chapmanii)
    • Florida rosemary (Ceratoila ericoides)
    • rusty lyonia (Lyonia ferruginea)
    • saw palmetto (Serenoa repens)


    The primary diagnostic element of Florida's scrub ecosystems is:

    • sand pine (Pinus clausa)

    Sand pine is restricted to well-drained sandy ridges that burn infrequently. Two varieties of sand pine have been recognized:

    1. peninsular Ocala sand pine (Pinus clausa var. clausa)
    2. Choctawhatchee sand pine of the Panhandle (Pinus clausa var. immuginata)

    The primary distinguishing characteristic between the two is that the Ocala variety is predominantly serotinous (closed cones) and the Choctawhatchee variety is predominantly nonserotinous (open cones).

    For more information on these and other trees and shrubs, visit our Trees of Florida page.

    Threatened or Endangered Plants


    • four-petal pawpaw (Asimina tetramera)
    • pigmy fringetree (Chionanthus pygmaea)

    Herbaceous Plants and Vines:

    • Curtis milkweed (Asclepias curtissii)
    • dancing-lady orchid (Ocidium variegatum)


    Animals found in scrub ecosystems are adapted to high temperatures and droughty conditions. Wildlife food production is typically low and dense vegetation provides good escape cover for animals such as white-tailed deer. Saw palmetto and oaks provide sufficient food when they are fruiting.

    Animals typically found in scrub ecosystems include:


    • florida mouse (Peromyscus floridanus)
    • white-tailed deer (Odecoileus virginianus)


    • towhee (Pipilo erthrophthalmus)
    • great-crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crintus)
    • scrub jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens coerulescens)
    • Bachman's sparrow (Aimophila aestivalis)


    • black racer (Caluber constrictor)
    • gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
    • scrub lizard (Sceloporus woodi)
    • sand skink (Neoseps reynoldsi)


    • gopher frog (Rana areolata aesopus)

    Threatened or Endangered Wildlife


    • Florida mouse (Peromyscus floridanus)
    • Goff's pocket gopher (Geomys pinetis goffi)


    • Florida scrub jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens coerulescens)


    • blue-tailed mole skink (Eumeces egregius lividus)
    • sand skink (Neoseps reynoldsi)
    • short-tailed snake (Stilosome extenuatum)


    Practically all scrub soils are entisols derived from quartz sand. These soils are excessively well-drained and practically devoid of silt, clay and organic matter, thus low in nutrients.

    The least productive of scrub soils may support a "rosemary scrub" community, which is characterized by a shrub layer of Florida rosemary with a widely scattered sand pine overstory. More productive scrub communities on soils derived from the same parent material as sandhills or high pine.

    For more information on soils, visit our Soils page.

High pine communities require frequent low-intensity fires that occur every 1 to 10 years, sometimes less often.

  • High Pine

    High pine is an upland savanna-like ecosystem typified by an open overstory of Pinus palustris (longleaf pine) and a ground cover of perennial grasses (primarily wiregrass) and forbs interspersed with oaks. High pine ecosystems once encompassed the following community types: sandhill, clayhill, longleaf pine/turkey oak barrens, and upland pine forests.

    In an old-growth longleaf pine-wiregrass habitat, trees account for less than 2% of the plant species richness. More than 98% of the plants in this habitat (>400) rarely grow taller than knee-height.

    Perhaps the most dominant natural force in longleaf forests is fire. Fairly frequent fire is required in these communities to maintain the diversity and stucture of the vegetation.

    Visit our Other Forest Values page in the Forest Management section for information about restoring longleaf pine sandhill communities.


    There are several variations of the sandhill ecosystem. Where fire is excluded and/or the pines have been removed, oaks dominate. Ground cover under trees and shrubs is scattered and sometimes absent.


    • longleaf pine (Pinus palustris)

    Of the 25 million hectares of longleaf pine forests that existed in the coastal plain before European settlement, about 3% of the uplands support high pine vegetation today.

    Longleaf pine has several adaptations that allow it to survive surface fires and is categorized within a group of pines that are fire-resistant, not fire-resilient like sand pine. These adaptations include:

    • an interim stage of development between the seedling and sapling stages known as the grass stage, which gives the tree additional protection from fire;
    • a terminal bud that remains near ground level for several years, sometimes a decade or more;
    • needles that are dense, long and moisture-laden.


    Today, because of changes in fire regimes that followed the exploitation of longleaf pine, most sandhills are dominated by Quercus laevis (turkey oak). Other hardwoods commonly found on sandhills include:

    • bluejack oak (Quercus incana) may be dominant with turkey oak
    • southern red oak or Spanish oak (Q. falcata) on more mesic, fertile sites
    • blackjack oak (Q. marilandica) in the panhandle
    • sand post oak (Q. stellata var. margaretta)
    • live oak (Q. virginiana)
    • Arkansas oak (Q. arkansana)
    • persimmon(Diospyros virginiana)
    • black cherry (Prunus serotina)
    • sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
    • mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa)
    • sand hickory (Carya pullida)


    • sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum)
    • pawpaw (Asimina incarna)
    • myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia) and other evergreen oaks

    For more information on these and other trees and shrubs, visit our Trees of Florida page.

    Herbaceous Plants:

    • wiregrass (Aristida stricta)
    • bluestems (Andropogon spp.)
    • piney woods dropseed (Sporobolus junceus)
    • bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum)
    • gopher apple (Licania michauxii)
    • golden aster (Pityopsis graminifolia)
    • low-bush blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinities)
    • blackberry (Rubus cuneifolius)
    • hairawn muhly (Muhlenbergia capillaris)

    Threatened or Endangered Plants


    • east coast coontie (Zamia umbrosa)
    • Florida coontie (Zamia floridana)

    Herbaceous Plants and Vines:

    • Godfrey's blazing star (Liatris provincialis)


    High pine supports many vertebrates found in a number of Florida's habitats. A minority of these, however, depend on these dry upland habitats for survival. A few of those are introduced here.

    The Picoides borealis (red cockaded woodpecker (RCW)) is a federally-listed endangered species which epitomizes old-growth longleaf pine forests of both highlands and flatwoods. This bird is at the center of controversy over the management of public forests because:

    • the RCW nests in cavities of large old pines - this habitat is nearly decimated with the demise of longleaf pine forests.

    Other fauna which typify high pine habitats include:


    • Sherman's fox squirrel (Sciurus niger shermani)
    • pocket gopher (Geomys pinetis)

    The above animal species are state species of special concern.


    • bobwhite quail (Colinus virginianus)
    • ground dove (Columbigallina passerina)
    • rufous-sided towhee (Pipilo erthrophthalmus)


    • gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)
    • fence lizard (Sceloporus undulatus)

    Threatened or Endangered Species


    • Florida mouse (Peromyscus floridanus)
    • Florida panther (Felix concolor coryi)


    • southeastern kestrel (Falco sparverius paulus)
    • red-cockaded woodpecker (Picoides borealis)


    • blue-tailed mole skink (Eumeces egregius lividius)
    • eastern indigo snake (Drymarchon corais couperi)
    • short-tailed snake (Stilosoma extenuatum)
    • gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus)