Everglades National Park: Mahogany Hammock

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Saw Palmetto

Our final stop in Everglades National Park was Mahogany Hammock, a hardwood hammock or island of dense trees and vegetation rising inches above the sawgrass prairie. It was the afternoon of Sunday, April 12, and our two-day visit to the Everglades was coming to its end.

Beyond the opportunity to visit a hammock ecosystem, we were attracted to this particular hammock because it boasts the largest Mahogany tree in the United States. The hammocks are areas of higher ground that are not flooded in the wet season. They are able to support an array of trees and plants are feel dense and jungle-like.

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From the parking area, a boardwalk bridges the sawgrass prairie of Shark River Slough. In the wet season, the river of grass flows beneath the boardwalk. But this was the end of the dry season, and the matted algae that usually floats on the water was lying on the ground, providing moisture for tiny organisms.

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Periphyton algae mat

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Poisonwood

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Mahogany Hammock is home to Barred Owls and juvenile Bald Eagles, but we saw neither. What we did experience was a slow stroll through an extremely lush pocket of habitat.

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This nodule resembles a Sandhill Crane.

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Sean noticed that the tree above is resting on another tree.

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Sabal Palm

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Shortly, we came upon a massive Mahogany tree next to the boardwalk. It is, in fact, the largest Mahogany in the United States.

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Mahogany

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Mahogany

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Mahogany

Video: Brandon Hayes

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Mahogany

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Saw Palmetto

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Root system of a toppled-over tree

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It was soft and quiet in the hammock, and we encountered few other visitors.

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Gumbo Limbo, growing around a fallen trunk

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Bromeliad

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Saw Palmetto, Image: Sean M. Santos

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Gumbo Limbo

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Strangler Fig

Near the end of the walk, we saw a Strangler Fig. The fig grows from a seed dropped onto a host tree, usually by a bird. The seed then germinates and sprouts, sending branches up and roots down until the roots dig into the ground around the host tree. Then the roots thicken around the host to create support for the fig. Eventually, the host tree will die and even decompose, leaving the fig in its place.

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We left the hammock and returned to the brilliant sunshine and heat of the afternoon.

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Slash Pine

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Slash Pine

We made one last stop in Everglades National Park, at Coe Visitor Center, where we dropped off our postcards to be mailed and bought patches and buttons to add to our collections.

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Near Everglades National Park, sort of its Wall Drug if you will, is a farm stand on steroids known as Robert is Here. Multiple people had mentioned it to us. So we stopped briefly. The line for milkshakes (which they’re known for) was way too long for us to bother with. So we strolled about through the crowded aisles for a bit. We didn’t explore the petting zoo and various other attractions.

The best thing about Robert is Here was the broad swath of humanity it attracts. Bikers and minivan tourists, nattily dressed Cuban men of a certain age and impeccable African American women stopping by after church, Latino families and college spring breakers.

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We still weren’t hungry, so we continued on, taking the turnpike this time and stopping only once for gas. Dad and I chatted in the front while Mother and Sean read and worked on projects in the back.

As we approached Lake Ashton, a system of massive thunderstorms moved across the central part of the peninsula. At least some of that rain will end up in the Kissimmee River and flow south into Lake Okeechobee. And some of that water will end up in restored marshes where it will be freshened. And some of that water will slip beneath Tamiami Trail and enter Everglades National Park, where it will flow slowly to the Gulf.

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We arrived at Lake Ashton on Sunday evening, wiped out from our adventure. Monday we relaxed and had dinner with friends.

Tuesday we flew back to Chicago.

And Elsa was pleased to see us.

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