Coastal Strand

The most commonly encountered community behind the herbaceous dune zone is a shrubby community known as coastal strand. On the Atlantic coast, coastal strand occurs as a dense, flat-topped (salt spray-pruned) community of evergreen shrubs which shows increasing abundance of tropical species as one goes south along the coast. The zone nearest the beach is usually occupied by a mixture of saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and a shrubby form of sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera) . As one goes inland, the canopy grades upward and is formed by a mixture of shrubs, usually including Sabal palmetto (dwarfed) , Forestiera segregata, Persea borbonia, Chrysobalanus icaco, and Rapanea punctata. The associates of these widespread species change as one goes southward. From Indian River to St. Lucie County their common associates are Sideroxylon tenax, Myrcianthes fragrans , and Quercus virginiana (dwarfed); from Martin to Miami- Dade County their associates change to tropical species, such as Eugenia foetida and Pithcellobium keyense (Johnson and Muller 1993). On the Gulf coast, the area behind the foredune is usually occupied by an open stand of grasses or trailing shrubs with scattered islands of taller shrubs surrounding a few cabbage palms in their center. These shrub islands of the coastal strand community are composed of many of the same tropical species found on the Atlantic coast (Forestiera segregata, Rapanea punctata, Randia aculeata, Chiococca alba, Lantana involucrata) , plus several shrubs or small trees more commonly, if not exclusively, found on the Gulf coast and the Florida Keys, i.e., Jacquinia keyense, Pithecellobium unguis-cacti, Sideroxylon celastrina , and Piscidia piscipula . Coastal shrubs with a low trailing growth habit [ Ernodea littoralis, Ambrosia hispida, Chiococca parvifolia = C. alba, Wunderlin (1996)] are also more abundant in the open backdune communities on the Gulf than they are in the denser, shrubby backdune thicket communities on the Atlantic coast of South Florida (Johnson and Muller 1992, Cooley 1955, Herwitz 1977). The coastal grassland community in which these shrub islands occur is generally of two types: on newer sand deposits it is composed of a variety of tall grasses (Muhlenbergia capillaris, Spartina patens, Schizachyrium semiberbe, Andropogon glomeratus, Aristida patula, etc. , plus occasional remnant patches of Uniola paniculata). This type is well developed on Cape Sable and the newer southern part of Cannon Island. In older, more stable portions of the broad barrier islands fronting Pine Island Sound, e.g., Cayo Costa, North Captiva, and formerly Captiva and Sanibel (Cooley 1955), coastal grassland consists of a short, dense sward of hairy grama grass, Bouteloua hirsuta, a western disjunct which is also a dominant species in Texas and on the western high plains (Kuchler 1964). This community is well preserved on state-owned land on Cayo Costa and North Captiva islands.

The coastal interdunal swale community is associated with the newer type of coastal grassland which develops on the ridges as a barrier island accretes as a series of low ridges and swales. It generally consists of graminoid species such as Fimbristylis castanea, F. spathacea, Spartina patens , and Paspalum distichum , with occasional halophytic species (Juncus roemerianus, Avicennia germinans) if tidal influence is present (Johnson and Muller 1992).   The coastal rock barren community occurs on Key Largo limestone and is marked by an abundance of spiny species including, Acanthocereus pentagonus, Opuntia stricta, and Agave decipiens, plus a great variety of other weedy herbs and shrubs (Kruer 1992). It appears to develop after disturbance, whether man-made or natural, and probably would not be recognized as a separate community except for the presence of several rare plants, notably Chamaesyce garberi, Opuntia triacantha, and Indigofera mucronata var. keyensis.

Taken from: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1999. South Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan.   Atlanta, Georgia. Pp.3:76-77.

Listed Species Occurring in Coastal Strand Habitat

  • Lower Keys Rabbit
  • Southeastern Beach Mouse
  • Eastern Indigo Snake
  • Kirtland's Warbler
  • Garber's Spurge
  • Key Tree Cactus