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Sandy Flatlands

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Scrub flatwoods.

To the west of the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, lower flat land stretches to the even lower former wetlands of the Everglades. Here and there scrub areas or pine forests maintain a dry environment on sandy soil that drains quickly. Scrub and scrubby flatwoods are two of the rarest natural communities in Florida, and it is estimated that there is less than two percent of scrub habitat remaining in Palm Beach County from before development.

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Slash pine forest.

The density of life in these desert-like areas is multi-layered. In a pine forest, trees  such as slash or sand pines and cabbage palms form the top layer, or canopy. Over the years, humans have found a number of uses for the cabbage palm, Florida’s state tree. Its trunk was used as logs for cabin walls and dock pilings. The fronds have been used for everything from roofing material to baskets. Both bears and humans eat the tree’s central bud.

Below the trees are shrubs, such as saw palmettos, scrub oaks, and hog plum. Closest to the forest floor are grasses, ferns, lichens (colorful fungi and algae or bacteria working together), and flowers. Dozens of wildflowers are native to Palm Beach County; the name Florida is Spanish for “flowery.”

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Plat of the Jupiter and Lake Worth Railway,
1890.

Palm Beach County protects several undeveloped natural areas, including Jupiter Ridge. American Indians, explorers, and pioneers would have used Lake Worth Creek on the western edge of Jupiter Ridge to reach the interior of Palm Beach County. The creek was mentioned in an army report as early as 1841. A wagon road also emerged several decades later, between the south side of the Loxahatchee River, near its mouth, and the northern end of the Lake Worth Lagoon. Next to the wagon road, the narrow-gauge Jupiter and Lake Worth Railway, nicknamed the “Celestial Railroad,” operated from 1889 to 1895, when it was converted to a public roadbed.

The section of U.S. Highway One called State Road A1A was built in the 1920s along the top of the dune. The slash pines on the edge of the wetlands were logged about 1940, and mosquito ditches dug around 1960, with no major effect on the mangroves of Lake Worth Creek. In 1970 the state sovereign lands bordering the creek and the Intracoastal Waterway in all of the Jupiter Ridge site were designated an aquatic preserve.

The Rosemary Scrub Natural Area, like many scrub communities, is named for its dominant plant species. It is a fragment of a large ridge and an inland lake/marsh system that included Lakes Osborne and Webster. When the E-4 Canal was dug in the 1930s, Lake Webster was entirely drained, and Lake Osborne’s water level dropped. Although the area was farmed about 1940, residential and commercial development accelerated after World War II.

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Rosemary Scrub Natural Area, Palm
Beach County.

Another fragment of a large ridge, Seacrest Scrub Natural Area, existed between a freshwater swale (now the Intracoastal Waterway), and an inland lake/marsh system dominated by Lake Ida and the former Lake Louise. The Seacrest Scrub is on the highest portion of the coastal ridge, where early clearings were probably made to grow pineapple plants until the county's pineapple industry collapsed in the late 1930s.

The Rosemary, Seacrest, and other natural areas were affected by the arrival of the 1890 sand road, the Florida East Coast Railway, Dixie Highway, and the Florida East Coast Canal. Seacrest Scrub was among the lands given to Flagler as an incentive to build the railroad. Remnants of old, lighter pine stumps indicate that large slash pines were logged near the railroad tracks not long after the railroad was constructed. In the early 1920s, U.S. Highway One (now Old Dixie Highway) was built parallel to the railroad.

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