The Everglades: Rocky Pinelands

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Story and Photographs by Paul Marcellini 

When most people imagine the Everglades, they probably picture large swaths of grass or some deep dark swamp loaded with alligators. In reality, it is a very complex ecosystem with a diverse landscape that includes pinelands, hardwood hammocks, cypress swamps, fresh and saltwater marshes, mangrove forests, and beach dunes.

One of my favorite habitats is the rocky pinelands of the southern Everglades. Considered a globally imperiled habitat, the rocky pinelands are the most floristically diverse habitat in Florida. Historically covering more than 186,000 acres, there is now somewhere around 22,000 acres left, in part because it was the “high ground” and fell victim to urbanization and agriculture. Fortunately, most is now protected and Long Pine Key is a perfect place to explore this unique habitat. Occurring on the fringe of tropical and temperate zones, the range of plants found together is unique to South Florida.

A macro photographer will find an abundance of opportunities to photograph floral textures as well as many smaller critters like toads, tree snails, and insects. The bark of the pines can also make for interesting images on its own. As primarily a landscape photographer, I enjoy wandering around and trying to organize the chaos of a forest. One feature that makes the pinelands of Long Pine Key more photographable is a series of marl prairies that run north to south and are mostly short muhly grass. With an edge and a tapering out of pines, you can include the pines but shoot east or west from within the prairies for a simpler scene. I like the zone where the pines are thinning but you still have a diverse mix of understory to use as foregrounds. Palmettos make excellent subjects, with the eye-catching lines and vibrant greens of their fronds.

Long Pine Key starts approximately 4 miles in from the main Everglades entrance outside of Florida City. There are more than 20 miles of fire break roads that act as trails but the Long Pine Key Nature Trail is a great place to start. It ends after almost 7 miles at Pine Glades Lake, an excellent place for sunset. A quick mile in and back should give you a decent idea of the habitat, including the transition from pineland to prairie. Before you go, you should try and become familiar with poisonwood, a tropical tree that contains the same toxic oil as poison ivy, but creates a much stronger reaction. It is quite prevalent as a smaller tree, and it is one Everglades occupant you do not want to get up close and personal with.

The Everglades is my backyard and will always be home, even if I travel far afield. Hopefully after a visit, you will also appreciate the subtle beauty of the rocky pinelands.

Paul has a new e-book called The Ultimate Guide to Everglades Photography. Check it out by clicking here

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