Lake Wales Ridge Florida Scrub Research

Lake Wales Ridge Research

LOCATION: Polk County and Highlands County

SIZE: 1,857.58 acres


The Lake Wales Ridge rose from ancient beach and dune systems that have stood above sea level for over a million years. The long, narrow ridge was uplifted about 300 feet above sea level and is one of the oldest natural scrub communities in Florida. Scientists say that the ridge rose during the Pleistocene epoch, which means the beginning of time.

Over the thousands of years, rising and receding seas exposed and covered much of the Florida Peninsula. Due to glacial stages, polar ice caps melted, waters rose, and a series of ridges stood as islands in a vast ocean that covered most of Florida. The ridges were formed as coastal ridges when the seas were higher. They are now collectively called “Florida’s Ancient Islands”. The Lake Wales Ridge remains the largest of these ridges.

Features of land on the Lakes Wales Ridge above sea level.

Interesting Facts

  • The Ridge is about 110 miles long, running from south of Lake Placid to north of Clermont; and averages about 15 miles in width.
  • US 27 runs on top of the Ridge.
  • The Lake Wales Ridge is the largest, highest, and the oldest of the ridges of Central Florida.
  • Other nearby ridges include the Winter Haven Ridge, Bombing Range Ridge, and the Mount Dora Ridge.
  • The average height of the Lake Wales Ridge is about 100 feet above sea level.
  • The hill at Bok Tower near Lake Wales is 295 feet above sea level.
  • The ridges were once isolated islands that developed unique habitats and ecosystems. They are still thriving to this day.

Unique Features

The Lake Wales Ridge contains several unique features all throughout the 150 miles of Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk and Highlands county. Approximately 40 species of endangered plants and animals survive on the Ridge, a hotspot of biodiversity. These species and fragmented natural areas are all that remain of an ancient flora and fauna that is truly unique. Today the scrub ecosystem that thrives on the ridge has the highest concentration of rare and endangered plants in the continental United States.

The endangered scrub blazing star.

Florida Scrub

In the Lake Wales Ridge, the Florida Scrub is one of the most interesting and one of the most endangered natural plant communities in the United States. The term “scrub” typically means low-growing, shrubby plants in dry, sandy soil. Florida Scrub is a unique plant community that occurs in small patches scattered across the state. It is home to dozens of plant and animal species that occur nowhere else in the world.

GoPher tortoise

Gopher tortoises are so named because of their ability to dig large, deep burrows. These burrows are widely used by other species throughout the ecosystem, making gopher tortoises a keystone species with a pivotal role to play in their native community.

Abiotic Features

Sunlight, animals and plants

Sunlight is necessary for photosynthesis, which is a process that creates food for plants. Food for the plants then become food for the animals.

Fire and plants

Period between fires is what determines which plant communities will grow. Without firebreaks, whenever there is lightning everything would just burn.

Temperature and plants

Water is far below the sandy surface. The temperature significantly drops when the sun goes down which causes moisture to condense on the leaves. Moisture then falls in drops above the roots.

Biotic features

The Lake Wales Ridge, other wise known as the Refuge was established in 1993 as the first Refuge designated for the recovery of endangered and threatened plants. The Refuge contains 23 listed plants, at least four listed animals, and more than 40 endemic invertebrates. The Refuge is part of a network of scrub preserves owned by the state of Florida, The Nature Conservancy, and the Archbold Biological Station.

Archbold Biological Station


Saw-toothed palmetto

Saw palmetto leaves provide cover and food for over 211 species of wildlife. It is a serious weed problem in pastures, forests, and non-cropland areas throughout Florida. It competes with desirable native plant species in forests, prevents access to power poles and other utility structures in non-cropland areas, reduces forage yield and quality in pastures, and hinders ranching operations by reducing visibility and accessibility to livestock.

Scrub oak

Scrub oak looks like a smaller, shrubby version of the larger, more familiar live oak, but although they are part of the Quercus genus, live oak and scrub oak are different species. Both can thrive in harsh environments, but each is different in appearance, cultural requirements and growth habits.

Scrub blazing star

The scrub blazing star is a long-lived perennial herb having a thickened, cylindric root. It is bright purplish-pink in color. It was listed as an endangered species in 1989 due to habitat loss.


Yucca is a genus of perennial shrubs and trees. Its species are notable for their rosettes of evergreen, tough, sword-shaped leaves and large terminal panicles of white or whitish flowers.


Sand skink

The sand skink is a small, slender, grey to light brown lizard with shiny scales that can reach a length of five inches. They have limbs that are greatly reduced legs with one toe on each front limb and two toes on each hind limb. It is a “sand–swimming” skink that is rarely seen above ground.

Scrub Jay

Its name is appropriate, for it lives only in Florida scrub, areas of short scrubby oaks growing on sandy soil. This habitat occurs mostly as isolated pockets, and the jays rarely wander away from their own little patch of scrub, making them extremely sedentary.

Short tailed snake

The short-tailed snake is a small harmless colubrid snake. Fossorial and seldom seen, it is found only in sandy, upland parts of Florida where it is listed as Threatened and is protected by state law.

Florida Scrub lizard

The Florida scrub lizard is a species of lizard endemic to Florida in the United States. The adult lizard is about 5 inches long. It is gray or brownish with a longitudinal brown stripe down each side of the body.

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