One of the more obscure local natural areas in the Sarasota/Charlotte County FL area is S Venice Lemon Bay Preserve which is roughly broken up into three main areas. The northern-most area (NE and N trail sections on map) is entered at 5472 Kenisco Rd (Venice) at the intersection with Euclid Rd. It is hardly known outside the immediate community but deserves to be visited and appreciated by naturalists from far and wide. This is due to the wide divergence in plants and animals associated with the scrub/scrubby flatwoods, freshwater pond and marshes, brackish swamps/marshes, salt flats, and Lemon Bay frontage.
The most famous inhabitant is the scrub jay which occupies the scrub habitats but is not thriving to the extent desired. The reasons for this decline are numerous but difficult to rectify when so little scrub is left. Land managers have removed most of the trees and are burning portions of the land in rotation to maintain a short growth of oaks producing acorns. This results in an interesting mosaic of habitat types.
The primary limitation for plant growth here is likely nutrients since the fine white silica sand derived from the Appalachians is sterile and quite dry as well. Pines grow tall here but very slowly- this tree has very close growth rings indicating it is about 100 years old. The heath family is well represented with several Lyonia species and blueberries. The poor soil also attracts specialists such as Lupine (aka the wolf which was thought by early farmers to “devour” the fertility of the soil). Of course the opposite is the case- Lupine is well adapted for low nutrient soils, as are many other members of the bean/pea family by fixing nitrogen in their roots) and protect themselves by toxicity. Wax myrtle in the bayberry family has a similar adaptation with root nodules containing nitrogen fixing bacteria and has a huge competitive advantage in poor soils. There are parasitic plants here such as hog plum and love vine and many plants have symbiotic associations with mycorrhizal fungi to compete for the few nutrients that are available. Some plants such as Liatris/blazing star flower when fire stimulates them to bloom and thus removes many vegetative competitors and releases a flush of nutrients.
In the areas that are somewhat moist with fresh water and richer in humus there are quite different plants such as the rein orchid and swamp fern (note double rows of spores underneath).
Radically different plant communities are found in the adjacent saline or tidal habitats. These start as grassy meadows after disturbance but are rapidly replaced by mangroves if fire does not intervene. White mangroves are the first woody successional stage after a few shrubs such as salt bush and high tide bush. Then red and black mangroves gradually move in and colonize the dense growth of white mangroves.
A walk through the trails on the northern end of SVLB Preserve is a wonderful introduction to the complex dynamics of plant communities and how they are shaped by biotic (competition, predation, herbivory, parasitism, etc) and abiotic (water, salts, nutrients, oxygen, light, etc) factors. Ecology is not like rocket science, it is far more complicated!