Pinelands are called a “fire climax” by ecologists, meaning that pineland community is the final vegetation that develops on uplands and marginal wetlands if fire is common. The natural, historic recurrence of fire is every 3 to 10 years. With frequent burns, pinelands are highly resistant to fire and are actually maintained or perpetuated by it (Figures 6.2 and 6.3). In southern Florida, slash pine is the only tree that reaches canopy stature in regularly burned areas, and its long needles provide an envelope of air that helps protect the growing tips of branches from heat damage (although the lower limbs are often killed by fire). At the shrub level, two obvious fire-adapted species are palms.
- Without fire for more than 10 years, a pineland begins to assume the characteristics of a hammock.
- A “young” hammock can be recognized by the remaining presence of tall pines. Once established, the hammock itself is fire retardant. Thus, while pinelands are a fire climax, ecologists consider the tropical hardwood hammocks to be the climax community of upland succession in southern Florida.