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One of the largest and most interesting swamp areas in the world.
Thee Everglades cover over 2,700 square miles of the southern part of Florida, stretching south from Lake Okeechobee and merging into saltwater marshes and mangrove swamps near the Bay of Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
The basin which makes up the Everglades was once the bottom of a sea. During the Ice Age, the region was alternately flooded with seawater and drained, as the ice sheets advanced and retreated. When the last ice sheet retreated, the sea rose and flooded the outlets of Everglades streams.
The northern and eastern parts of the Everglades are covered by sawgrass that grows as high as 12 feet in some places. (The Indian name for the region, "Pa-hay-okee," loosely translates to "grassy water.") Wax myrtles, willows, bays, and custard apples grow on clumps of higher lands called "tree islands." The soils of the Everglades are made up largely of muck and peat, which are the remains of decayed plant life.
A 20-mile-wide strip of mangrove forest flourishes along the southwestern edge of the Everglades. A broad-leafed evergreen, the mangrove survives in an environment where the fresh water from the north drains into the salt water at the ocean's edge. The dense roots protect the coastline from erosion and act as land builders when sediment is trapped between them.
The Everglades were uninhabited until 1842, when the Seminole Indians fled to the area after wars with United States troops and white settlers. In 1906, the State of Florida began draining large areas of the Everglades to make the region suitable for farming. Canals were built from Lake Okeechobee to the ocean. Sugar cane and vegetables were grown. But the dry muck left behind caught fire easily, and salt water kept creeping into fresh water wells. In 1948, the federal government approved a plan and authorized a fund for scientific reclamation to overcome these difficulties. The establishment of a National Park in 1947 helped keep suburban growth from overtaking the region, but by this time the Everglades had shrunk to barely one-fifth its original area. Although conservationists and ecologists have made great strides over the ensuing decades to restore as much of the Everglades to its "original state" as possible, the Everglades remain the most endangered region in the United States.
Everglades National Park, established by Congress in 1947, encompasses the southwestern-most part of the Everglades, as well as the Ten Thousand Islands region along the Gulf of Mexico and part of the Big Cypress Swamp. Approximately 350 species of birds, 60 species of amphibians and reptiles, 25 species of mammals, and countless species of insects call the park home. Sawgrass plains cover much of the park, but scattered throughout are freshwater sloughs, pine forests, broad-leafed hardwood forests, and coastal mangrove forests. The Anhinga Trail, named for the American snakebird, is a boardwalk that extends into the interior of the Everglades. Another elevated walkway, called the Mahogany Hammock, takes visitors to the largest living mahogany tree in the United States. The Wilderness Waterway is a well-marked 99-mile canoe route that meanders along the western edge of the Everglades.
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This page was last updated on June 25, 2017.