Wet Prairies

This category includes wet prairies found on marl soils, sandy soils (farther northward), and exposed limestone bedrock in the rocky glades region of the southeastern Everglades, as well as in dwarf cypress savannahs. These wet prairies typically have a high frequency of limestone exposures above the marl soil, resulting in what is locally called a micro-karst topography. However, in some areas such as the rocky glades region of the east Everglades and in peripheral wet prairies to Taylor and Shark sloughs, there may be numerous solution holes in bare limestone. Some of the solution holes retain organic matter, and over long periods of time, develop a soil locally known as "Gandy peat" within them. One early describer of the wet prairies said they had more holes than solid ground (Dade County 1979). These numerous solution holes are in direct contact with the underlying aquifer and serve as vital refugia for aquatic and semi-aquatic species during seasonal drying down of water levels. These refugia become concentrated with fishes, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates, and are preferred foraging areas for a wide range of wading birds as water levels are dropping.

Olmsted et al. (1980) and Kushlan (1990) described wet prairies as the driest of the marsh categories. Olmsted et al. (1980) found that " Muhlenbergia appears to thrive best where hydroperiods of 2 to 4 months occur." Wet prairies on marl soils and exposed limestone have a mixture of Muhlenbergia capillaris , short Cladiumjamaicense , Schoenusnigricans , Rhynchospora spp., Hypericum spp., Baccharis spp., Panicum spp., Aristida purpurascens, Schizachyrium rhizomatum, Eragrostis ellioti, and Spartina bakeri. Overall, this wetland type is found on the widest range of environmental conditions with regard to substrate, soil, and salinity. Most of the species in the wet prairies tend to be herbaceous, not graminoids, but the short Cladium or Muhlenbergia is the dominant plant by coverage.

Early descriptions of the marl prairies did not mention muhly grass, leading many to believe it is a recent community type, related to reduced hydroperiods and/or more frequent fires in prairies previously dominated by saw grass. Much attention has been recently given to muhly prairie as the preferred habitat for the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow. Olmsted et al . (1980) evaluated this issue at length: "Although Muhlenbergia prairie is presently one of the most extensive communities of Everglades National Park and occupies large areas in Big Cypress National Preserve, this may be the result of recent vegetation changes." Werner (1975) states that "some of the older South Florida naturalists claim that Muhlenbergia was somewhat rare in the past and that it is only the recent destruction by drought fires of the shallow organic soil which formerly overlaid the marl and the general drying of South Florida which has propagated the vast Muhlenbergia prairies of today." Two other factors should be noted: In the vegetative state, Muhlenbergia fillipes [ capillaris ] and Schoenus nigricans look very much alike and are not distinguishable from afar. It is very possible that Muhlenbergia was mistaken for Schoenus in earlier days. The beakrush, Rhynchospora tracyii , also looks very much similar to Muhlenbergia .

When wet prairies are found as elongated strips of lower-lying land intersecting sections of the large stands of Pinus ellioti and tropical hardwood hammocks in the southern portions of the elevated Atlantic Coastal Ridge, they are locally called transverse or finger glades. These finger glades are narrow and abundant in the remaining large pinelands of Long Pine Key in Everglades NP and in parts of the Big Cypress National Preserve, and are seasonally available to a wide range of animals and plants. As ecotones, they have a higher overall annual diversity of plants and animals than the upland habitats they intersect (Dalrymple 1988, Olmsted et al. 1980).

Taken from: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1999. South Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan. Atlanta, Georgia. Pp.3:407-408.

Listed Species Occurring in Wet Prairie Habitat

  • Florida Panther
  • Key Deer
  • Lower Keys Rabbit
  • Rice Rat
  • Audubon's Crested Caracara
  • Bald Eagle
  • Cape Sable Seaside Sparrow
  • Everglades Snail Kite
  • Florida Grasshopper Sparrow
  • Wood Stork
  • Eastern Indigo Snake
  • Okeechobee Gourd