Welcome! After a long hiatus, NJUrbanForest.com is proud to be back with a new hike to virtually explore! Today’s hike will take us deep into southwest Florida’s Fakahatchee Strand Preserve via the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. I hope you got your binoculars with you because this boardwalk is chock full of flora and fauna goodness!
Before we begin you may be wondering what in the world is a strand? A strand is generally shallow and has formed where the underlying limestone dissolved. The most common trees found are Bald Cypress, Royal Palm and Red Maple. Within the strand are numerous sloughs which are deeper channels of water. The Fakahatchee Strand is one of the most ecologically rich areas found in the greater Everglades ecosystem.
The Fakahatchee Strand is the world’s largest subtropical strand stretching around 20 miles long and about five miles wide and is the only one with a mixed Royal Palm and Cypress canopy. The park is the largest state park in Florida and contains more native orchids than any other area found in North America. This is why the nickname of the Fakahatchee Strand is the Orchid Swamp.
There are four sections in the park:
- Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk
- The East River
- The Jones Grade Lakes
- Janes Memorial Drive
The Fakatchee Strand was harvested for its cypress for ten years stretching from 1944-1954 with the exception of the portion we will explore today. The former logging site was then turned into a state park.
Birds, mammals and reptiles common to the Fakahatchee Stand include:
- Green Heron
- Great Egret
- Wood Stork
- Florida Black Bears
- Florida Panthers
- Everglades Mink
- Bald Eagles
- Florida Banded Water Snake
- Red-Shouldered Hawk
- Barred Owl
Common plants include:
Ready? Let’s go! As we walk along there are interpretive signs indicating the flora and fauna found in the Fakahatchee Strand. The trail from the parking lot to the boardwalk is about 856 feet long. The actual boardwalk is 2,300 feet or about .6 of a mile. The boardwalk ends at an observation deck at an alligator pond.
Here we have come across a Laurel Oak. The Laurel Oak’s native habitat includes swamps and wet hammocks. The tree can reach heights of 100 feet. In Florida, many homeowners use this tree for their yards.
Next we have a Live Oak. The Live Oak grows to about a maximum of fifty feet in height. The Live Oak’s acorns are popular with wildlife.
A blur of white appears to the side as we walk the boardwalk. Check out the beak on this bird! It’s a Great Egret. In the early 1900’s the Great Egret was pushed to the edge of extinction due to the high demand for its feathers for women’s hats. This of course was before the Migratory Bird Act of 1918.
As we walk along a huge old-growth Bald Cypress is being attacked by something. That something is a Strangler Fig. The Strangler Fig reminds me of sculptures found in the movie Beetlejuice. The tree starts life as an air plant (aka epiphyte). Once the roots of the Strangler Fig touch the ground the plant is no longer an epiphyte but is now considered a terrestrial plant. Strangler Figs can reach heights of 50-60 feet.
Royal Palm is found here. The tree is native to southern Florida and is commonly planted. But here it is wild and not planted.
A Limpkin is around the corner but appears a tad blurry. I thought I just got my eyes checked? You won’t find Limpkins up north. In fact, Florida is the only state in the United States with a Limpkin population.
As we walk along there are beautiful Iris in full bloom.
As we walk looking at the Iris flowers and other vegetation we spot something that at first looks like rope. This snake means us no harm and we keep walking.
We see many dead trees as we walk. Dead trees (aka snags) serve a valuable purpose. Insects consume the tree which provide food for a variety of birds. Woodpeckers make holes which serve their young and later provide shelter for animals such as the raccoon.
Splash! A River Otter makes a surprise appearance. What an honor to meet its acquaintance before it slips beneath the water.
Next we come across a hungry River Cooter who is eating non-stop. River Cooters eat anything it finds. It’s not picky! Let’s keep going!
Check out this guy. It is a Cormorant aka fish hawk. There must be a lot of fish in these waters to keep seeing birds like the Great Egret and this guy.
Nice! We have come across Wild Coffee. Wild Coffee is evergreen and grows to a maximum of eight feet in height. The seeds resemble coffee (hence its name) but is not actually used for coffee.
And here is the star of today’s walk: an American Alligator. I think we will keep on moving and leave this guy to his day.
There are many types of ferns as we walk on the boardwalk. Among them include:
We have now arrived at the end of the boardwalk. Straight ahead of us is an alligator pond teeming with wildlife (including guess who? American Alligators!)
Thank you for exploring the Fakahatchee Strand Big Cypress Boardwalk with NJUrbanForest.com!
Directions taken from FloridaHikes.com:
From Naples, drive 17.1 miles east from the intersection of CR 951 (Collier Blvd) along US 41 (Tamiami Trail), passing Collier-Seminole State Park and Port of the Isles. There is a very large sign on the right, but parking is in a small space to the left. Do not block the gate to the Miccosukee Village. From the east, the boardwalk is 6.9 miles west of the blinker at the intersection of US 41 and SR 27 near Everglades City, which is 17 miles south of the I-75 Everglades City / Immokalee exit.
Check out the books below for more information on Florida’s swamps!
- The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise
- Exploring Everglades National Park and the Surrounding Area: A Guide to Hiking, Biking, Paddling, and Viewing Wildlife in the Region (Exploring Series)
- Everglades: America’s Wetland
- Florida’s Wetlands (Florida’s Natural Ecosystems and Native Species)
Be sure to check out the Friends of Fakahatchee Strand for all the latest happenings!
Feel free to comment below with any bird sightings, interesting plants, memories or suggestions! Thank you and have fun exploring!