Southern Florida stretches south, dividing the Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Mexico. Stretching further south is the Florida Keys. These coral islands are the southernmost part of the United States.
Since much of southern Florida is close to sea level, it is very swampy. The famous Everglades are wetlands where tall grass and bunches of trees grow. Part of these swamps has been drained for agricultural land. The soil is rich and market gardening is an important activity.
The Everglades that remain are too wet to be used for farming. The Everglades are a “river of grass.” The deeper water areas stay wet all year, but the shallower pools dry up in the dry season. Some of the water has been drained off for agricultural purposes, making the Everglades drier. Nonetheless, the best way to travel in this region is by airboats. These high boats can go through water and sail over clumps of grass.
Besides the wet grasslands, southern Florida has smaller areas of tropical forest. These areas of hardwood trees are called hammocks, and they are rich in animal and plant life. Along much of the coast are mangrove trees, which provide important nesting grounds for wild birds.
The Florida Keys stretch 200 miles from Miami southwest. These islands are tropical in climate. Fishing and tourism are important industries.
Because of its sub-tropical nature, the animal and plant life of southern Florida differs from other parts of U.S.A. Characteristic animals are alligators and crocodiles. Alligators prefer fresh water and usually live inland, while crocodiles live in salt water along the coats. Both animals are considered dangerous. Alligator wrestling is considered a sport for the brave or foolhardy.
Probably Florida is most famous for its birds. At one time, many species were almost extinct. Their long feathers were used on women’s hats. Now the law protects them. Florida has at least six species of herons, several egrets, wood storks, white ibises and cormorants. Characteristic Florida birds are the purple gallinule, the anhinga, the limpkin, flamingoes and roseate spoonbills. Many of these birds are notable for their size, colouring and interesting habits.
Notable animals include the key deer, a miniature form of the white-tailed deer. There are also panthers or cougars, bobcats, marsh rabbits, mangrove squirrels, round-tailed muskrats and the manatee.
Naturally, the Everglades are home to many reptiles. Snakes are common– both water snakes and land species. There are four poisonous varieties. Both land and sea turtles abound and lizards are fairly common.
Fishing is a major industry. Sports fishermen go to sea in search of trophies, such as marlin, sailfish and tarpon. Smaller fish are caught commercially. Fresh water sport fish include bass and gar.
After many decades of work to protect the animals and plants of the Everglades, the region finally became a National Park in 1947. It is the third largest park in the U.S.A. and covers one and a half million acres. Within the park live 300 kinds of birds, 30 kinds of mammals, 65 kinds of reptiles and amphibians, and nearly 1,000 species of flowering plants. Of course, it is a major tourist attraction.