Deer Prairie Creek Preserve (DPC) along the east bank of the Myakka River in North Port has two distinct types of wetlands. There are those that are “riparian” along the river and creek, and those that are distributed inland among the hydric pine flatwoods. The original human uses of these ranch lands were for cattle grazing and some agriculture which resulted in blocking of tidal intrusion of salt water by construction of dams along the lower reaches of the creeks. Such a remnant of former ranching is seen in this preserve and it has unfortunately been left in place. This results in a picturesque small lake for kayaking but is quite damaging to the normal ecology of this tidal stream. Consider the coastal fish that would normally migrate up and down the tidal creek and above into fresh water during their life cycles. One example is the hogchoker ( https://portal.ct.gov/DEEP/Fishing/Freshwater/Freshwater-Fishes-of-Connecticut/Hogchoker ). The ecology of the lake is also quite abnormal since it is mainly inhabited by exotic fish such as walking catfish and tilapia.
The terrestrial uplands and hydric flatwoods in this preserve are happily in a much more natural condition. The trails meander down beautiful sandy roads starting near the creek surrounded by large live oaks. These oaks are festooned with various epiphytes or “air plants” which require many more nutrients than air can supply. As the photo of the dense growth of Spanish moss and grass leaved air pine show, the epiphytes can amount to a large biomass and compete for limited nutrients with the tree and restrict sunlight reaching the leaves. Most of the nutrients in these habitats are found in the vegetation, not in the soil. Rainfall running down and through the trunk/stems/leaves leaches some nutrients which are captured by the epiphytes before they reach the ground and the tree roots. It is a highly competitive situation in which the epiphytes are in essence pseudo-parasitic, just as are vines.
There are animals that are basically terrestrial such as this common buckeye butterfly, and others which are highly dependent on wetlands such as this band winged dragonlet. Plants are similarly divided into those that vary from very intolerant (obligatory upland species) to those ranging in tolerance to life in wetlands (obligatory wetland species to facultative wetland species). Pine flatwoods in DPC seem to be either moderately dry (mesic) or periodically wet (hydric) with the latter containing few saw palmettos (upland species) but many facultative wetland species (such as water oak, shiny lyonia and sundews) and obligatory wetland species (such as Dahoon holly, Carolina aster and sandweed). Note that the shiny lyonia is infested with a striking red gall caused by a fungus, Exobasidium, that specifically infects heaths; but the color of this gall is quite unusual in my experience.
The presence of carnivorous plants such as sundews (and bladderworts) is especially indicative of very low soil nutrients since these unique plants catch animal prey as a major source of nutrients not found in the soil. The photos show a close up view illustrating why the plant is called a sundew since the sticky droplets which catch insects shine in the light. A second view is shown to illustrate how abundant the sundews can be in the edges of wetlands where grasses and sedges are less common and do not outcompete them.
Deer Prairie Creek Preserve is an exceptionally interesting place to study and marvel at the biodiversity of plants and animals and how they adapt to the variations in availability of water and soil nutrients. The intrinsically low nutrient levels of our sands made of silica washed down from the Appalachians over eons have made these habitats a hotbed of competition for resources. It is remarkable how plants and animals have responded in different ways to these evolutionary challenges.