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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: Special Status:

Scrub Plants:

Ampelopsis arborea Pepper vine Understory vine  
Ardisia escallonoides Marlberry Coastal strand  
Aristida stricta Wiregrass Oak-saw palmetto scrub2  
Alternanthera flavescens Yellow joyweed Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1  
Andropogon glomeratus Bushy bluestem Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1  
Befaria racemosa Tarflower Oak-saw palmetto scrub2  
Bursera simaruba Gumbo limbo Coastal strand  
Caesalpinia bonduc Nickerbean woody shrub  
Cakile lanceolata Sea rocket Coastal strand3  
Callicarpa americana Beautyberry Woody shrub  
Carya floridana Scrub hickory Oak-saw palmetto scrub2  
Casuarina equisetifolia Australian pine Coastal strand  
Ceratiola ericoides Florida rosemary, sand heath Oak-saw palmetto scrub2  
Chamaesyce mesembryanthemifolia Coastal beach sandmat Coastal strand3  
Chiococca alba Snowberry Understory  
Chrysobalanus icaco icaco coco plum Oak scrub inhabitant1  
Cissus sicyoides Possum grape Understory vine  
Cissus trifoliata Sorrelvine, marinevine Coastal strand3  
Cladonia spp. Reindeer moss Ground lichen  
Cnidoscolus stimulosus Finger rot Coastal strand3  
Coccoloba diversifolia tietongue, pigeon plum Coastal strand3  
Coccoloba uvifera Sea grapes Shrub in saw palmetto scrub1  
Conradina grandiflora Largeflower    
Dalbergia ecastophyllum Coin vine Open scrub  
Echites umbellata Devil's potato Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1  
Encyclia tampensis Butterfly orchid Epiphyte of live oaks  
Erythrina herbacea Eastern coralbean, redcardinal Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1  
Ficus aurea Strangler fig Coastal strand

Forestiera segregata var. segregata Florida swamp privet Coastal strand

Galactia regularis Eastern milkpea Scrub

Galactia volubilis Downey milkpea Scrub

Helianthus debilis Beach sunflower Coastal strand

Heliotropium currassavicum Seaside heliotrope Coastal strand

Heterotheca subaxillaris Golden aster, camphorweed Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1

Ipomoea triloba Littlebell Coastal strand  
Iva imbricata Seacoast marshelder Coastal strand  
Laguncularia racemosa White mangrove Coastal Strand (St. Lucie)  
Lantana camara Lantana Oak scrub1; open scrub3  
Limonium carolinianum Sea lavender Coastal strand  
Lyonia ferruginea Rusty lyonia Oak-saw palmetto scrub2  
Lyonia fruticosa Staggerbush, coastal plain staggerbush Oak-saw palmetto scrub2  
Lyonia lucida Fetterbush Oak-saw palmetto scrub2  
Myrica cerifera Wax myrtle woody shrub  
Myrcianthes fragrans West Indian nakedwood Palmetto and oak scrub4  
Optunia stricta Prickly pear cactus Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1  
Osmanthus americana Devilwood Oak scrub inhabitant1  
Palafoxia feayi Feay's palafox herbaceous scrub plant  
Parthenocissus quinquefolia Virginia creeper Coastal strand  
Persea borbonia Red bay coastal strand  
Persea borbonia var. humilis Silk bay Scrub  
Phlebodium aureum Cabbage palm fern Epiphyte of live oak  
Pinus clausa Sand pine Scrub canopy  
Pinus elliottii Slash pine Scrubby flatwoods canopy  
Pinus elliottii var. densa South Florida slash pine Scrubby flatwoods canopy  
Pinus palustris long-leaf pine Scrub, scrubby flatwoods  
Pisonia aculeata Devil's claw Coastal strand  
Pithecellobium keyensis Blackbead Open scrub  
Pityopsis graminifolia Narrowleaf silkgrass Herbaceous scrub plant  
Poinsettia cyathophora Poinsettia, painted leaf Protected coastal strand3  
Polypodium polypodioides Resurrection fern Epiphyte of cabbage palms  
Portulaca pilosa Pink purselane Protected coastal strand3  
Psychotria nevosa Wild coffee Shrub  
Physalis viscosa Ground cherry Coastal strand  
Quercus chapmanii Chapman oak Scrubby pine flatwoods  
Quercus geminata Scrub live oak Scrubby pine flatwoods  
Quercus myrtifolia Myrtle oak Scrubby pine flatwds, impndmts  
Quercus virginiana Live oak Shrub in oak scrub4  
Randia aculeata White indigoberry Saw palmetto scrub inhabitant1  
Rapanea punctata Myrsine, rapanea, colicwood Coastal strand  
Rhizophora mangle Red Mangrove Coastal Strand - St. Lucie  
Rivina humilis Rougeplant Coastal strand  
Rumex hastatulus Sorrell Coastal strand  
Sabal palmetto Cabbage palm Shrub in oak scrub1  
Schinus terebinthifolius Brazilian pepper Oak scrub inhabitant1  
Serenoa repens Saw palmetto Shrub3  
Sesuvium portulacastrum Sea purselane Coastal strand  
Sideroxylon tenax Tough bumelia, tough bully Oak scrub inhabitant1  
Smilax sp. Catbrier Understory vine  
Spartina patens Beach cordgrass Coastal strand- St. Lucie  
Sporobolus junceus pineywoods dropseed Coastal strand  
Tillandsia fasciculata Cardinal air plant Epiphyte of live oaks  
Tillandsia recurvata Ball moss Epiphyte of live oaks  
Tillandsia setacea Quill wild pine Epiphyte of live oaks  
Tillandsia usneoides Spanish moss Epiphyte of live oaks  
Tillandsia utriculata green wild pine Epiphyte of live oaks  
Toxicocentron radicans Eastern poison ivy Coastal strand  
Vaccinium myrsinites Shiny blueberry Oak-saw palmetto scrub2  
Vitis aestivalis Summer grape Understory vine  
Vitis rotundifolia Muscadine grape Understory vine  
Vittaria lineatea Shoestring fern epiphyte of cabbage palms  
Ximenia americana Tallowwood, hogplum Oak scrub inhabitant1  
Yucca aloifolia Spanish bayonet Coastal strand  
Zanthoxylum fagara Wild lime Protected coastal strand3  

Scrub Animals:

Aphelocoma coerulescens Florida scrub jay Dune and scrub inhabitant1  
Bufo quercicus oak toad Oak scrub and uplands  
Cnemidophorus sexlineatus Six lined racerunner Scrub  
Columbina passerina Ground dove Scrub  
Dedroica coronata Yellow-rumped warbler Scrub  
Drymarchon corais couperi Eastern indigosnake Dune and scrub inhabitant1  
Eumeces eqregius lividus Blue-tailed mole skink Scrub  
Gopherus polyphemus Gopher tortoise Dune and scrub inhabitant1  
Lanius ludovicianus Loggerhead shrike Scrub  
Masticophis flagellum flagellum Eastern coachwhip snake Scrub  
Mus musculus House mouse Scrub  
Neoseps reynoldsi Sand skink Scrub - rare

Neotoma floridana f. Eastern wood rat Dune and scrub inhabitant1  
Odocoileus virginianes White-tailed deer Scrub and uplands1  
Oryzomys palustris natator Rice rat Dune and scrub inhabitant1  
Peromyscus gossypinus palmarius Cotton mouse Dune and scrub inhabitant1  
Peromyscus polionotus niveiventris Southeastern beach mouse Dune and scrub inhabitant (Canaveral to Sebastian Inlet)  
Pipilo erythrophthalmus Rufous-sided towhee Scrub  
Podomys floridanus Florida mouse Dune and scrub inhabitant1  
Rattus norvegicus Norway rat Scrub1  
Rattus rattus Black rat Scrub1  
Sceloporus woodi Florida scrub lizard Dune and scrub inhabitant1  
Sciurus carolinensis Gray squirrel Scrub1  
Sigmodon hispidus littoralis Hispid cotton rat Dune and scrub inhabitant (Canaveral to Sebastian Inlet)  
Spilogale putorius ambarvalis Spotted skunk Scrub  
Sus scrofa Wild boar Scrub1  
Sylvilagus floridanus f. Eastern cottontail rabbit Dune and scrub inhabitant1  
Sylvilagus palustris paludicola Marsh 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.

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