The most prevalent plant community paddlers will encounter is the coastal salt marsh. Salt
marshes are beds of rooted plants that develop along the shorelines of estuaries where wave
energy is low. To the casual observer, a salt marsh looks like a monotonous expanse of grass
and water. In reality they are a highly complex and intricately balanced ecosystem, fragile yet
also very resilient. In terms of biomass production (animal and plant) salt marshes are one of the
richest ecosystems on earth. Another fascinating aspect of salt marshes is that they are an
environment in constant motion. As the tides rise and fall, fish, birds and other animals move in
and out of the salt marsh creating an exciting symphony of sight, sound, and motion.
Upland areas and larger islands are dominated by an environment known as Maritime Hammock
Forests. This environment gets its name from “Maritime” meaning “near the sea” and
“Hammock” meaning “shady place.” This type of forest is dominated by a mixture of hardwood
trees such as live oaks, slash pines, holly, hickory, magnolia, and southern red cedar. Two
species of palm trees are also common; the tall sable palms and the lower growing saw palm.
Very little light penetrates to the maritime forest floor so wildflowers are not abundant.
However vine-growing plants are common and wild grapes grow prolifically reaching high into
the forest canopy.
Freshwater swamps are formed by underground springs that discharge water at a slow and steady
flow creating creeks that eventually empty into brackish estuaries. The dark color of these
creeks is the result of plants and decaying matter turning the spring water brown, much the same
as when one puts a bag of tea into a glass of water. The pungent earthy smells of fresh water
creeks and swamps are the smell of life ending and beginning it it’s grand cycle. Paddlers will
observe huge cypress trees, fragrant native azaleas, and brilliantly blooming lilies, orchids and
bromeliads along the creek banks. Freshwater swamps and creeks abound in animal life and the
lucky paddler may encounter turtles, raccoons, otters, alligators and endless varieties of birds.