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Scrub Habitats

Stable backdune areas give rise to scrub communities built upon sandy or well drained soils, with the predominant vegetation being herbaceous shrubs, evergreen oaks, or pines. Coastal scrub communities, commonly referred to as coastal strand, are becoming vanishing ecosystems due to developmental pressures in the coastal zone. Most of the coastal habitats from Cape Canaveral in Brevard County, to Miami in Dade County have been highly fragmented due to development. In Brevard County alone, it has been estimated that the natural scrub community was diminished by 69% during the period between 1943 - 1991 (Schmalzer 1995; Robinson and Smith 1996).

Scrub, except saw palmetto scrub, is a term often used to describe well-drained xeric habitats (Woolfenden and Fitzpatrick 1984). Scrub is generally characterized as open pineland with an oak or palmetto understory, that is well adapted to dry conditions. However, scrub habitats fall into a number of categories based on vegetation structure and composition: coastal scrub, oak scrub, sand pine scrub, rosemary scrub, slash pine scrub, and scrubby flatwoods. Each type of scrub is also characterized based on soil type, geography, and fire patterns in the area. Leaf fall is minimal in scrub areas, and ground cover is generally sparse due to shading effects from the overstory trees. Open patches of sand are often present in scrub lands, and where they occur, understory trees and woody shrubs benefit from the intense sunlight that reaches the ground.

Florida's scrub and pine flatwoods consist of similar shrub layers, with pine flatwoods differing by having an open canopy of slash pine (Pinus elliotii) intermingled with pond pine (P. serotina). Drier areas tend to be dominated by scrub oaks (Quercus myrtiflolia, Q. geminata, Q. chapmanii), while less well-drained areas are dominated by saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) (Schmalzer and Hinkle 1987, 1991, 1992; Breininger et al. 1988; Breininger and Schmalzer 1990). In many Indian River Lagoon sites, a mixed oak/palmetto shrub layer occurs.

While coastal scrub communities are impacted more by the strong winds and flooding brought on during storm events, most types of scrub are maintained primarily by fires. Low leaf fall, coupled with sparse ground vegetation insures that the risk of frequent fire is reduced. But, as sand pines mature, retaining branches and increasing in size, their crowns build up large fuel supplies for hot burning, fast moving fires. Fire, when it does occur, regenerates the scrub community and prevents its succession to an oak hammock or scrubby flatwoods community by dispersing pine seeds, recycling minerals back to the earth as ash, and diminishing the oak or palmetto understory.

Herbaceous scrub species, many of which are gap specialists, are vulnerable to competition and eventual competitive exclusion from scrub areas. These plants benefit from reduced competition in the burn zone following a fire. Some studies indicate that gap specialists may be more abundant in an area following fire, than they are when the area is fire-free for long periods. Frequent fires are more beneficial to oak scrub and scrubby flatwoods communities; while less frequent fires are more beneficial to sand pine scrub and other pine-dominated scrub types.

Scrub Plants:

The scrub communities of east central Florida's barrier islands typically consists of coastal scrub, also called strand. Coastal scrub occurs immediately behind dune systems and is dominated primarily by saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and other common shrubs such as nakedwood (Myrcianthes fragrans), tough buckthorn (Bumelia tenax), rapanea (Rapanea punctata), hercules club (Zanthoxylum clava-hercules), bay (Persea borbonia), sea grapes (Coccoloba uvifera) and snowberry (Chiococca alba). Shrubby forms of live oak (Quercus virginana) are also common in coastal scrub communities. Indicator species for other types of scrub communities are: sand pine (Pinus clausa), myrtle oak (Quercus myrtifolia), scrub live oak (Q. geminata), Chapman's oak (Q. chapmanii), coastalplain goldenaster (Chrysopsis scabrella), and narrowleaf silkgrass (Pityopsis graminifolia).

Scrub Animals:

A number of animals are found in scrub habitats, including some of Florida's most threatened and endangered species. Among them are the gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus), the eastern indigo snake (Masticophis flagellum flagellum ), the southeastern beach mouse (Peromyscus polionotus niveiventris), and the Florida scrub jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens). Many other animals also utilize scrub areas for feeding and for shelter.

Select a highlighted link below to learn more about that species:

Species Name: Common Name: Habitat Notes:

Scrub Plants:

Alternanthera flavescensYellow Joyweed Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1
Ampelopsis arboreaPeppervine Understory vine
Andropogon glomeratusBushy Bluestem Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1
Ardisia escallonoides Coastal strand
Aristida strictaBottlebrush Threeawn, Pineland Threeawn, Wiregrass Oak-saw palmetto scrub2
Bejaria racemosaTarflower Oak-saw palmetto scrub2
Bursera simarubaGumbo Limbo Coastal strand
Caesalpinia bonducNickerbean, Yellow Nicker woody shrub
Cakile lanceolataCoastal Sea Rocket Coastal strand3
Callicarpa americanaAmerican Beautyberry, Beautyberry Woody shrub
Carya floridanaScrub Hickory Oak-saw palmetto scrub2
Casuarina equisetifoliaAustralian Beefwood, Australian Pine, Beach She-oak,
Coastal strand
Ceratiola ericoidesSand Heath Oak-saw palmetto scrub2
Chamaesyce mesembryanthemifoliaCoastal Beach Sandmat Coastal strand3
Chiococca albaRat Root, Snakeroot, Snowberry, Timacle, West Indian
Chrysobalanus icacoIcaco Coco Plum Oak scrub inhabitant1
Cissus sicyoidesPossum Grape Understory vine
Cissus trifoliataSorrelvine Coastal strand3
Cladonia spp.
Cnidoscolus stimulosusFingerot Coastal strand3
Coccoloba diversifoliaPigeon Plum Coastal strand3
Coccoloba uviferaSea Grape Shrub in saw palmetto scrub1
Conradina grandifloraLarge-flowered Rosemary, Largeflower False Rosemary, Scrub
Dalbergia ecastaphyllumCoinvine Open scrub
Echites umbellataDevil's Potato Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1
Encyclia tampensisButterfly Orchid Epiphyte of live oaks
Erythrina herbaceaEastern Coral Bean, Eastern Coralbean, Redcardinal Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1
Euphorbia cyathophoraPoinsettia Protected coastal strand3
Ficus aureaStrangler Fig Coastal strand
Forestiera segregataFlorida Swamp Privet Coastal strand
Galactia regularisEastern milkpea Scrub
Galactia volubilisDowney milkpea Scrub
Helianthus debilisBeach Sunflower, Cucumberleaf Sunflower Coastal strand
Heliotropium curassavicumSeaside Heliotrope Coastal strand
Heterotheca subaxillarisCamphorweed Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1
Ipomoea trilobaLittlebell Coastal strand
Iva imbricataSeacoast Marshelder Coastal strand
Laguncularia racemosaWhite Mangrove Coastal Strand (St. Lucie)
Lantana camaraLantana, Largeleaf Lantana, Shrub Verbena Oak scrub1; open scrub3
Limonium carolinianumSea Lavender Coastal strand
Lyonia ferrugineaRusty Lyonia, Rusty Staggerbush, Staggerbush, Tree Lyonia Oak-saw palmetto scrub2
Lyonia fruticosaStaggerbush Oak-saw palmetto scrub2
Lyonia lucidaFetterbush, Fetterbush Lyonia Oak-saw palmetto scrub2
Myrcianthes fragransSimpson's Stopper Palmetto and oak scrub4
Myrica ceriferaWax Myrtle woody shrub
Opuntia strictaErect Pricklypear Cactus, Prickly Pear Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1
Osmanthus americanaDevilwood Oak scrub inhabitant1
Palafoxia feayiFeay's Palafox herbaceous scrub plant
Parthenocissus quinquefoliaVirginia Creeper Coastal strand
Persea borboniaRedbay coastal strand
Persea borbonia var. humilisSilk bay Scrub
Phlebodium aureumCabbage Palm Fern, Golden Polypody, Golden Serpent Fern Epiphyte of live oak
Physalis viscosaSand Ground-cherry Coastal strand
Pinus clausaSand Pine Scrub canopy
Pinus elliottiiHonduras Pine, Pitch Pine, Slash Pine, South Florida Slash
Pine, Swamp Pine, Yellow Slash Pine
Scrubby flatwoods canopy
Pinus elliottii var. densaSouth Florida Slash Pine Scrubby flatwoods canopy
Pinus palustrisLong-leaf pine Scrub, scrubby flatwoods
Pisonia aculeataDevil's Claw Coastal strand
Pithecellobium keyenseBlackbead Open scrub
Pityopsis graminifoliaNarrowleaf Silkgrass Herbaceous scrub plant
Polypodium polypodiodesResurrection Fern Epiphyte of cabbage palms
Portulaca pilosaPink Purselane Protected coastal strand3
Psychotria nervosaSeminole Balsamo, Wild Coffee Shrub
Quercus chapmaniiChapman's Oak Scrubby pine flatwoods
Quercus geminataSand Live Oak Scrubby pine flatwoods
Quercus myrtifoliaMyrtle Oak Scrubby pine flatwds, impndmts
Quercus virginianaLive Oak, Sand Live Oak, Scrub Live Oak, Southern Live Oak,
Texas Live Oak, Virginia Oak
Shrub in oak scrub4
Randia aculeataWhite Indigoberry Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1
Rapanea punctataRapanea Coastal strand
Rhizophora mangleAmerican Mangrove, Mangrove, Red Mangrove Coastal Strand - St. Lucie
Rivina humilisRougeplant Coastal strand
Rumex hastatulusSorrell Coastal strand
Sabal palmettoCabbage Palm, Cabbage Palmetto Shrub in oak scrub1
Schinus terebinthifoliusBrazilian Pepper-tree, Brazilian Peppertree, Christmas
Berry, Christmasberry, Faux Poivrier, Florida Holly, Warui
Oak scrub inhabitant1
Serenoa repensSaw Palmetto Shrub3
Sesuvium portulacastrumShoreline Seapurslane Coastal strand
Sideroxylon tenaxTough Bumelia Oak scrub inhabitant1
Smilax spp.Catbrier Understory vine
Spartina patensSalt Meadow Cordgrass Coastal strand- St. Lucie
Sporobolus junceusPineywoods Dropseed Coastal strand
Tillandsia fasciculataGiant Airplant Epiphyte of live oaks
Tillandsia recurvataBallmoss Epiphyte of live oaks
Tillandsia setaceaWild Pine Epiphyte of live oaks
Tillandsia usneoidesSpanish Moss Epiphyte of live oaks
Tillandsia utriculataSpreading Airplant Epiphyte of live oaks
Toxicodendron radicansEastern Poison Ivy Coastal strand
Vaccinium myrsinitesShiny Blueberry Oak-saw palmetto scrub2
Vitis aestivalisSummer Grape Understory vine
Vitis rotundifoliaMuscadine Grape Understory vine
Vittaria lineataShoestring Fern epiphyte of cabbage palms
Ximenia americanaTallowwood Oak scrub inhabitant1
Yucca aloifoliaAloe Yucca, Spanish Bayonet Coastal strand
Zanthooxylum fagaraWild Lime Protected coastal strand3

Scrub Animals:

Anaxyrus quercicusOak toad
Aphelocoma coerulescensScrub Jay Dune and scrub inhabitant1
Aspidoscelis sexlineatusSix lined racerunner Scrub
Columbina passerinaCommon Ground Dove Scrub
Drymarchon corais couperi Dune and scrub inhabitant1
Gopherus polyphemusGopher Tortoise Dune and scrub inhabitant1
Lanius ludovicianusLoggerhead shrike Scrub
Masticophis flagellum flagellumEastern Coachwhip Scrub
Mus musculusHouse Mouse Scrub
Neotoma floridanaEastern Wood Rat Dune and scrub inhabitant1
Odocoileus virginianesWhite-tailed Deer Scrub and uplands1
Oryzomys palustris natatorRice Rat Dune and scrub inhabitant1
Peromyscus gossypinus palmariusCotton Mouse Dune and scrub inhabitant1
Peromyscus polionotus niveiventrisSoutheastern Beach Mouse Dune and scrub inhabitant (Canaveral to Sebastian Inlet)
Pipilo erythrophthalmusRufous-sided Towhee Scrub
Plestiodon egregiusBlue-tailed mole skink Scrub
Plestiodon reynoldsiSand skink Scrub - rare
Podomys floridanusFlorida Mouse Dune and scrub inhabitant1
Rattus norvegicusNorway Rat Scrub1
Rattus rattusBlack Rat Scrub1
Sceloporus woodiFlorida scrub lizard Dune and scrub inhabitant1
Sciurus carolinensisEastern Gray Squirrel Scrub1
Setophaga coronataYellow-rumped warbler Scrub
Sigmodon hispidus littoralisFlorida Cotton Rat Dune and scrub inhabitant (Canaveral to Sebastian Inlet)
Spilogale putorius ambarvalisSpotted Skunk Scrub
Sus scrofaFeral Pig, Wild Boar Scrub1
Sylvilagus floridanusEastern Cottontail Dune and scrub inhabitant1
Sylvilagus palustris paludicolaMarsh Rabbit Dune and scrub inhabitant1

1 Found throughout the IRL
2 Most common in Northern IRL and Cape Canaveral area
3 Most common in Central/Southern IRL
4 Found from Cape Canaveral to Ft. Pierce Inlet; to the south is replaced with tropical shrubs and trees

Further Reading:

Austin 1998. Classification of plant communities in south Florida. Internet document.

Bergen, S. 1994. Characterization of fragmentation in Florida scrub communities. M.S. thesis. Dept. Bio. Sci., Florida Institute of Tech., Melbourne, FL.

Carter, R.W.G., T.G.F. Curtis, and M.J. Sheehy-Skeffington. 1992. Coastal dunes geomorphology, ecology and management for conservation. A.A.

Chambliss K., D.D. Hott, and M.H. Slotkin. 1998. Public Goods, Biodiversity, and Municipal Land Acquisstion: Reflections of the Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) Program in Brevard County, Florida. Presented at 23rd Annual Conference Association of Private Enterprise Education, Dallas, Texas 11 pp.

Fernald, R.T. 1989. Coastal xeric scrub communities of the Treasure Coast Region, Florida: A summary of their distribution and ecology, with guidelines for their preservation and management. Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Comm. Nongame Wildlife Pgm. Tech. Rep. No. 6. Tallahassee, FL. 113 pp.

Florida Natural Areas Inventory, Department of Natural Resources. 1990. Guide to the Natural Communities of Florida. Publication. 11pp. Tallahassee, FL.

Komar, P.D. and Moore, J.R., editors. 1983. CRC handbook of coastal processes and erosion. CRC Press, Inc. Boca Raton, Florida.

Komar, P.D. 1998. Beach processes and sedimentation, 2nd edition. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.

Myers, R.L. and J.J. Ewel, eds. 1990. Ecosystems of Florida. University of Central Florida Press, Orlando, FL. 765 pp.

Oertel, G.F. and M. Lassen. 1976. Developmental sequences in Georgia coastal dunes and distribution of dune plants. Bull. GA. Acad. Sci. 34: 35 - 48.

Otvos, E.G. 1981. Barrier island formation through nearshore aggradation -
stratigraphic and field evidence. Mar. Geol. 43:195-243.

Packham, J.R. and A.J. Willis. 1997. Ecology of dunes, salt marsh and shingle. Chapman and Hall, London.

Pethick, J. 1984. An introduction to coastal geomorphology. Edward Arnold, London.

Pilkey, O.H. and M.E. Feld. 1972. Onshore transport of continental shelf sediment: Atlantic southeastern United States. In: Swift, D.J.P., D.B. Duane and O.H. Pilkey, eds. Shelf Sediment Transport: Process and Pattern. Dowden, Hutchinson, Ross. Stroudsburg, PA

Robinson, Tami L., and Lisa H. Smith. 1996. Regional conservation of the imperiled scrub ecosystem in Brevard County, Florida. Brevard County Parks and Recreation Department, Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Viera, FL. Internet document available at:

Schmalzer, P.A. 1995. Biodiversity of saline and brackish marshes of the Indian River Lagoon: historic and current patterns. Bulletin of Marine Science 57(1): 37-48

Schmalzer, P.A., B.W. Duncan, V.L. Larson, S. Boyle, and M. Gimond. 1996.
Reconstructing historic landscapes of the Indian River Lagoon. Proceedings of Eco-Informa '96. 11:849 - 854. Global Networks for Environmental Information, Environmental Research Institute of Michigan (ERIM), Ann Arbor, MI

Stalter, R. 1976. Factors affecting vegetational zonation on coastal dunes, Georgetown County, SC. In: R.R. Lewis, and D.P. Cole, eds. 3rd Proc. Annu. Conf. Restoring Coastal Veg. Fla. Hillsborough Comm. Coll., Tampa, FL

Stalter, R. 1993. Dry coastal ecosystems of the eastern United States of America. In: Ecosystems of the World. Volume 2. Elsevier Science Publications, New York, NY.

Swain, H., P. A. Schamlzer, D. R. Breininger, K. Root, S. Boyle, S. Bergen, S.
MacCaffree. 1995. Appendix B Biological Consultant's Report. Brevard County Scrub Conservation and Development Plan. Dept. Bio. Sci., Florida Institute of Technology., Melbourne, FL.

Tyndall, R.W. 1985. Role of seed burial, salt spray, and soil moisture deficit in plant distribution on the North Carolina Outer Banks. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

Wagner, R.H. 1964. The ecology of Uniola paniculata L. in the dune-strand habitat of North Carolina. Ecol. Monogr. 34: 79 - 96.