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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.