Diverse Species of Highlands Hammock

An up-close view of a white ibis.

Throughout Florida, many different species of plants and animals thrive in the variety of habitats the state has to offer. However, for various reasons, many of these species have been listed as threatened or endangered by the federal government, state government, or both. Highlands Hammock State Park is home to more of these listed species than any other state park in Florida, and many of these species play important roles in the ecosystems of the park.

One example of such a species would be the gopher tortoise. These tortoises get their name from the long, underground burrows that they live in – much like gophers. Many other species rely on these burrows for shelter, especially during fires, which are a natural part of the scrubby flatwoods and other habitats that the tortoises call home. Without the gopher tortoises to dig these burrows, many other Florida species would have a difficult time surviving.

Not all listed species are as small as the gopher tortoise. In fact, two of them are some of the largest and most powerful species found in the park, such as the American alligator and the Florida panther. American alligators are now common throughout Florida, however they were once endangered due to overhunting for their scaly hides. On the other hand, Florida panthers are still listed as endangered. Due largely to habitat loss, there are only around 120 to 230 adult Florida panthers still in the wild. As apex predators, both American alligators and Florida panthers help control the populations of prey species, thus keeping the ecosystem balanced.

Florida Panther

Many listed plants can also be seen in the park. Two of the more unique listed plants at Highlands Hammock are the cardinal airplant and the giant airplant. To find them, you’ll have to look up, not down; Airplants don’t root in the ground, but instead get their water and nutrients from the air around them and the rain that falls on them. They are often seen growing on trees, high in the sky.

Come visit us at Highlands Hammock State Park to glimpse these listed species, and many more!

A view of a blue heron.