What is a 'Hammock'
Description of the trees, shrubs,
vines and herbs that comprise typical Florida Hammock.
According to Webster's Ninth New
Collegiate Dictionary, the word hammock is derived from hummock, but
the exact origin is unknown. It is defined as "a fertile area in the
southern U.S. and esp. Florida that is usually higher than its
surroundings and that is characterized by hardwood vegetation and
deep humus-rich soil."
Victor Shelford echoes this
definition in The Ecology of North America (1963) and adds a list of
important trees typically found in hammocks which include southern
magnolia, American holly, redbay, laurel oak, American beech, and
live oak. Shelford also lists a number of trees, shrubs, vines and
herbs that comprise typical understory.
In his book, A Naturalist in Florida
(1994), Archie Carr, zoology professor and naturalist, states that
in Florida a hammock refers to any hardwood forest, although the
definition varies slightly depending on geographical area. In
coastal Georgia the term refers to "a little island in the salt
marsh, usually with red cedar, small live oaks, and saltbush growing
on it" (Carr 1994:171).
In the Everglades a hammock refers to
"isolated patches of small broadleaf trees, many of them West Indian
species, in the sawgrass or maidencane marsh or limestone pinelands"
In the remaining area of the south
where the term applies, a hammock is "any predominantly evergreen
woods that is composed of no coniferous trees" (Carr 1994:171).
Because coniferous woods such as pinelands and cypress swamps are so
prevalent in the south, the term hammock is useful for
distinguishing between these forests and the hardwoods; however, the
term is less useful nowadays because so many of the hammocks are
gone. Hammock soil is some of the most fertile in Florida; as a
consequence, most were cut down long ago so that fan-farmers could
use the rich soil, and trees could be used for lumber.
Hammocks are not extensive, and
typically occur in narrow bands only a few hundred meters wide. The
hammocks found in northern Florida contain "the largest numbers of
species of trees and shrubs per unit area in the continental United
States" (Platt and Schwartz 1990:194).
According to the article by Platt and
Schwartz in Ecosystems of Florida (1990), although hammocks are
typically designated as xeric, mesic, or hydric (which refers to
low, medium, and high soil moisture respectively) these forests are
more frequently defined by their location and vegetation than by
moisture zone. Platt and Schwartz thus describe hammocks by their
location along the topographic gradient: high (xeric), midslope (mesic)
and low (hydric). All three have typical overstory and understory
associated with them.
Thomas Barbour, naturalist at large,
describes hammocks this way, "I love hammocks ... in the early
spring, when the yellow jasmine festoons the forest trees and when
the redbud and giant dogwoods and the maples are putting forth their
vivid crimson foliage, I do not know of lovelier spots to sit
listening to birds and resting in the heat of the day" (Barbour