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Trails within the Arboretum are graded easiest, moderate, and more difficult based on terrain and length.
Lake Loop Trail (Easiest)
The Lake Loop Trail is 0.3 miles long and encircles Lake Ray, a two-acre, man-made lake. The Lake Loop connects to the trailhead and is a wide, firm and stable, accessible trail. There is an approximate 25-foot drop in elevation between the trail head and the most easterly side of the Lake Loop. Tree and plant collections are located in this area.
Jones Creek Trail (More Difficult)
This 0.3-mile dirt trail rises and falls nearly 25 feet along its course. The trail is not suitable for strollers. The Jones Creek trail meanders through a “baygall” or bay head and then up and along a sand bluff. Watch your footing and be aware of many grade changes and exposed tree roots on this narrow trail through jurisdictional wetlands. The water in Jones Creek is mostly fresh water, but becomes more brackish as it turns north. There is a large cypress tree on this trail near its junction with the Lake Loop. At higher elevations, you will find an upland hardwood forest populated with oaks and hickories.
Upper Ravine Trail (Moderate)
This is a 0.3-mile dirt hiking trail that connects to the Jones Creek Trail on the east end and to the trail head on the west end. A ravine extends east and west along the south side of the Lake Loop. The Upper Ravine Trail is located on the south side of the ravine and offers views of the ravine, particularly in winter. The trail drops down several feet to connect with the Jones Creek Trail on its east end.
Lower Ravine Trail (Moderate)
This short 800-foot trail meanders along the outside edge of a small man-made island at the bottom of the ravine. Most of the trees in this area were planted after the island was created. Exposed tree roots are prevalent on this narrow trail. This trail was built by volunteers from the Student Conservation Association and connects to the Jones Creek Trail.
Live Oak Trail (Moderate)
This 0.5-mile trail is home to the National Champion Loblolly Bay and several beautiful oaks that are a hundred years old or more. Winding through rolling terrain, this trail traverses a pine flatwoods and dry prairie flatwoods habitat. In the spring, native blueberries and native Florida azaleas may be in bloom in this area. The world champion loblolly bay is also located in the woods about 15 yards from the east side of this trail. This trail connects to the Lake Loop and Rosemary Ridge trails.
Rosemary Ridge Trail (More Difficult)
This is a one-mile, winding dirt trail that crosses multiple habitats: a xeric hammock, a rosemary/oak scrub, a depression marsh and a wetland marsh, among others. There is a small, gated access trail to the Rosemary Scrub which is soft sand. No dogs are permitted on the Rosemary Scrub Trail. The deer moss is very fragile, so please avoid disturbing it. This trail connects to the Live Oak Trail via a boardwalk over a small stream.
Aralia Trail (More Difficult)
This trail lies south of the Upper Ravines Trail with its entrance near the Mormon Bridge. It offers a view of rippling water in Jones Creek and several large Aralia spinosa (Devil’s Walking Stick) trees. There are some grade changes and part of the trail is located on a natural seep that can be wet and muddy after rains.
Points of Interest
Lake Loop Trail: Points of Interest
As you follow the Lake Loop Trail, look for various views of Lake Ray. Lake Ray is actually an early 1970s-era borrow pit. A dam separating the lake from Jones Creek is located on the eastern end. Lake Ray is nine feet at its eastern end and becomes gradually shallower toward the western end. It receives water from underground sources on the northern side, as well as rainwater, and runoff from adjacent uplands. The bottom is sandy with a thin muck layer. The water quality is good, and there is usually a natural seasonal algae bloom in late winter. Aquatic vegetation is mainly spatterdock (Nuphar luteum), with some marsh species (soft rush) and other wetland species along the banks. Various insects, fish, turtles and amphibians inhabit the lake, which also attracts ducks, coots and anhinga, among other species. It is used as a freshwater source by mammals and reptiles in the area.
Banks of the lake range from a very shallow slope (western end) to extremely steep (north and south banks). Vegetation on the banks and uplands around the lake includes a variety of grasses, forbes, shrubs and trees, all of which help stabilize the banks to keep them from eroding. Despite the vegetation, there are still areas that are eroding. As part of the UF/IFAS Lake Watch program, volunteers monitor Lake Ray six times a year for several water-quality parameters.
Upper Ravine Trail: Points of Interest
In the parking area, between the entrance drive and the upper Ravine Trail, is a deep, dry grassed retention pond. The pond is dry because the soil is very sandy and the water table here is about 25 feet below the surface of the ground. The dry retention pond was designed to capture oil, sediments, and other pollutants from the paved, parking area to prevent them from being discharged into the springs and streams at the bottom of the ravine, which lead to Jones Creek. As Jones Creek is a tributary of the St. Johns River, the dry retention pond also prevents pollutants from reaching the river. After it was constructed in 2008, the slopes of the pond were stabilized with cordgrass. Many native wildflowers, including blanket flower, broom sedge, coreopsis, and horsemint have made the retention pond their home.
The cabbage palm (Sabal palmetto), a native plant of the southern United States, is the state tree of Florida. It can be found near the coast from the North Carolina barrier islands south to the Florida Keys and up the Gulf Coast to the northwestern Florida panhandle. The cabbage palm inhabits many different ecosystems, including beaches, sandy bay and estuary shores, the margins of tidal flats and marshlands where it often crowds into extensive groves, and inland in hardwood hammocks and pine flatwoods. The cabbage palm is remarkably resistant to fire, floods, coastal conditions, cold, high winds and drought and is able to adapt to most types of soil. The cabbage palm grove at the Arboretum has been here for approximately 50 years.
The longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) is a majestic tree that once covered more than 90 million acres in the Southeastern coastal plains. Almost 97 percent of these trees are gone today. As they are difficult to grow, they were replaced by slash, loblolly, and other pines that grew more easily for timber. Nevertheless, the longleaf pine is an essential component in the restoration of native sandhill pineland communities. The young longleaf resembles a large tuft of grass. After its root system is established, it grows straight up to about seven to nine feet and resembles a large green candle stick. As it grows still taller, it develops lateral branches. Longleaf pines can live for more than 200 years. The Arboretum is planting longleaf pines in areas south of the Upper Ravine Trail.
As you gaze into the ravine, you will see a thriving wetland community of red maple, sweet gum, poplar, slash pine, rushes, ferns and sedges. It wasn’t always this way. What is now a beautiful spring-fed ravine began life as a borrow pit, a place where sand was excavated for use in construction projects. Over the years, however, Mother Nature healed the scar left by heavy machinery and created for us a place of wonderful contrasts. Have a seat on the bench and look around. As you face east, you will see the ravine to the left, and to the right, an upland forest of oaks, hickories, and southern magnolias. Nearby you will see a stately, live oak tree draped with Spanish moss. Spanish moss is not a parasite. It just uses the tree as a perch and absorbs water and nutrients from the air. The purple beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) bush is abundant here. Its brilliant purple fruits are an important food source for many Florida animals, such as bears, deer, hogs and birds.
Lower Ravine Trail: Points of Interest
Here you are on the ravine floor. Possibly the first thing you will notice as you walk the trail are the ferns. Cinnamon, royal, and net-leaf chain ferns create an exotic environment under the towering pines. Look closely at the creeks and ponds, and you will see that they are not as stagnant as they might appear. Fed by groundwater springs and seeps, the water is always flowing. Mosquito fish and crawfish make their homes here, along with leopard frogs and green tree frogs. The small floating green plant in the water is duckweed, which is an extremely important food source for many animals and is the smallest flowering plant in the world!
Poison ivy, a plant common throughout the southeast, is abundant here as well. Take the time to locate the plant sign near the bridge and become familiar with the plant. The general rule of thumb is that if it has three leaves, leave it alone. If you should come in contact with it, simply wash the area well with a moist wipe or soap and water as soon as you can. Poison ivy contains oil that causes an allergic reaction when it touches the skin. You can be exposed to the oil directly by brushing against the plant, but also indirectly by tying your shoelaces, patting your dog, or breathing smoke from burning poison ivy vines.
A baygall is a thick, forested depression at the base of a sandy slope. Water seepage from higher elevations allows moisture to accumulate in the soil. When this occurs over a long time, a substrate called peat forms. The Arboretum baygalls do not yet have a peat layer. The canopies of baygall habitats are predominated by evergreen species such as the loblolly bay (Gordonia lasianthus), and a lesser number of moisture-loving deciduous trees like red maple (Acer rubrum), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), and even a few swamp bay (Persea palustris) and sweet bay (Magnolia virginiana) trees. The mid-story contains wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), Virginia willow (Itea virginica), and wild azalea. The understories of these habitats are fairly open and consist mostly of fern species. The cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), net-leaf chain fern (Woodwardia areolata), chain fern (Woodwardia virginica), royal fern (Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis) are examples of fern species that inhabit this area.
Cypress trees (Taxodium spp.) are commonly found in Florida’s wetlands. They are among the most flood tolerant of the Florida tree species. The base and trunk of cypress trees are typically buttressed, or widened, making them more stable in soggy, saturated soil. The roots of cypress break the soil surfaces as “knees.” Although the biological function of the knees is unconfirmed, it is thought that they may provide oxygen to the submerged roots and may help to anchor the tree in the ground. It is also thought that the heights of the buttressing and of the knees are related to the depth of flooding. They survive in wetlands where few other trees can, but they will thrive in moist, even relatively dry, sandy soils as well. Cypress trees are coniferous, like pines, but unlike pines, they are not evergreen. Cypress trees are deciduous and will lose their feathery needles in the fall. They can live for hundreds of years, although much of Florida’s old growth cypress was logged in the early 19th century. Today, cypress trees continue to be harvested for saw timber and landscape mulch.
Jones Creek is a freshwater creek that begins in the Southside Estates area south of Atlantic Boulevard and flows north into the St. Johns River. Though clean by most urban standards, the water is not drinkable because of periodic coliform contamination from the surrounding residential areas. The creek supports a large variety of animal life. Many kinds of reptiles and amphibians call Jones Creek home and the creek teems with fish. It is not unusual to find water snakes, salamanders, crawfish and frogs living side by side with mosquito fish, bluegill and largemouth bass. Raccoons, opossums and otters also make their homes here, along with the Arboretum’s popular barred owl family. The creek is tidal here, so you can see it swell and shrink with the tides, but it is freshwater, not brackish. This area is frequently flooded following heavy rains.
Upland Hardwoods were once found along the high, sandy bluffs bordering creeks in north Florida. However, because of their ideal soil, temperature and light conditions, humans have developed much of this habitat. In fact, it is one of the world’s most endangered habitats. The most common species in the Upland Hardwood canopy layer at the Arboretum are pignut hickory (Carva glabra), live oak (Quercus virginiana), and laurel oak (Quercus laurifolia). Southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) tree are also scattered around. Also called bull bay or evergreen magnolia, they have large, fragrant, creamy-white petals with a purple center that are attractive to pollinators and humans alike. The most common mid-story species here are horse sugar (Symplocos tinctoria) and saw palmettos (Serenoa repens) and the understory layer consists of many shade-tolerant forbes and ferns.
Live Oak Trail: Points of Interest
Live Oak Tree
Nothing exemplifies “The South” like a large live oak (Quercus virginiana) dripping with Spanish moss. The name live oak comes from the fact that evergreen oaks remain green (or alive) throughout winter, while many other oaks are dormant, leafless and dead looking. Live oaks are briefly leafless in the springtime when the new leaf buds push off the old leaves. The largest live oak at the Arboretum is more than 125 years old. The oldest living Southern live oak is believed to be approximately 1,200 years old, so the tree at the Arboretum has a long life ahead of it. What will the Arboretum look like when this tree is 1,200 years old? Each year these large live oaks produce over 2,000 acorns each, but only one in 10,000 will ever grow up to be a tree. The others will provide food for all sorts of wildlife. The USS Constitution earned the name Old Ironsides from the strength of its hull made of live oak wood. The strong wood repeatedly repelled British cannonballs, bouncing them off the hull of the American frigate.
Originally, native long leaf, slash and pond pines occupied most of North Florida. Under these old pine forests were vast areas of grasslands. Due to frequent summer lightning storms, hardwoods were primarily restricted to wetlands, which were less prone to fires. Today, due to development and fire suppression, few of the native flatwood habitats exist, and the ones that do have understories of hardwoods, mixed with scrubs and vines. Because of their proximity to residential areas, the flatwoods at the Arboretum would be difficult to maintain with control burns. Instead, we are using a flail mower to remove accumulated dead vegetation and reproduce a condition similar to the condition that would have been produced by a natural fire. We will continue to monitor this area and to encourage a more natural flatwood habitat.
Native Honeysuckle Azalea
Also called Pinxter Azalea [Rhododendron canescens]. This leggy, medium to large deciduous shrub has been found growing naturally in three places in the Arboretum. One stand is located along the eastern portion of the Live Oak Trail, and the other two stands are located on the eastern portion of the Rosemary Ridge Trail. The flowers are showy, fragrant and can be white or pink with red or pink tinging. This is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring. Look for the blooms in mid-March.
Honeysuckle Azaleas are very picky about where they grow. This “Goldilocks” of the plant world prefers sloping terrain in a narrow band of uniformly moist soil lying between the drier upland and the lower wetland soils. Wild azaleas grow in the same plant zone, as the loblolly bay trees, where it is “just right.”
Rosemary Ridge Trail: Points of Interest
The bottomland forest community covers about 40 percent of the Arboretum. This community is found in low elevations and represents a transition zone between the drier upland areas (including xeric hammock and upland forest) and seasonally-flooded areas bordering Jones Creek. Bottomland forest soil is generally very acidic and moist. Trees in the bottomland forest are generally taller than the trees in the neighboring xeric hammock and the forest floor of the bottomland forest has many fern species, but few grasses. Canopy trees include the water oak (Quercus nigra), the diamond-leaf oak (Quercus laurifolia) and bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). The bald cypress is a tall tree that can grow in anoxic (low in oxygen) soils and in Jones Creek because of its special roots or knees. These knees rise out of the ground to help anchor and provide oxygen to the tree. The mid-story layer consists of shrubs, short trees, and saplings that will grow in the moist shade, such as the wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) and swamp dogwood (Cornus amomum). The wax myrtle is characterized by its irregular-shaped leaves and pleasant aroma of its crushed leaves. This tree was used by the Timucua to ward off mosquitoes. The swamp dogwood is an important food source for many birds and is the larval host of the Spring Azure butterfly. The dense overstory of the forest provides filtered light and allows for little evaporation, which creates dappled moist conditions that are perfect for ferns and herbaceous plants. The cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) has tall fertile fronds with spores that appear to be cinnamon-colored. The never-wet(Orontium aquaticum) which grows along the banks of the creeks, has a waxy outer layer on its leaves that causes water to bead.
The Live Oak and Rosemary Ridge Trails wind their way through xeric hammock. This habitat covers approximately 30 percent of the Arboretum and was likely much smaller a century ago when fire and fire-tolerant pine habitats, such as scrubby flatwoods and sandhills, were more prevalent in this area. Xeric Hammock only develops in areas that have been protected from fire for at least 30 years. As you walk along the trails through Xeric Hammock, you will find a thriving community of plants in the canopy, mid-story, and understory. This community grows in well-drained, sandy soils. Little water and nutrients are retained in the sandy soil, resulting an abundance of palmettos, low-growing oaks and drought-resistant shrubs. The canopy is dominated by stunted laurel (Quercus laurifolia) and live (Quercus virginiana) oaks and an occasional chapman’s oak (Quercus chapmanii). The mid- and understory layers are dominated by palmettos and shrubs in the blueberry family such as sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboretum), rusty lyonia (Lyonia ferruginea), and fetterbush (Lyonia lucida).
Lichen species abound in Xeric Hammock community. Reindeer moss (Cladonia rangiferina), named for its food source to caribou and reindeer in the north, is actually lichen which is composed of an alga and fungus in a symbiotic relationship. It forms a dense, pillow-like colony on the ground. Reindeer moss is very sensitive to trampling. If you encounter reindeer moss, please don’t disturb it as it is slow to recover. Other lichen you may see when walking on the Live Oak trail is Christmas lichen (Cryptothecia rubrocincta). Its name comes from the red and green colors seen on the sides of trees. This lichen is normally found on trees in areas of open sunlight.
Tidal Marsh Area
The northeastern portion of the Arboretum is bounded on the east by Jones Creek. This Creek flows northward through the Arboretum and into Mill Cove and the St. Johns River. The lower reaches of Jones Creek are tidal, resulting in about a 3 ½-foot change in water level twice every 24 hours. The timing of the tides changes with the moon cycles. Tides times are approximately 50 minutes later each day. For example, if high tide one day is at noon, the next day high tide will be at 12:50 p.m. Looking out across the tidal marsh, you will see two different types of vegetation. Black needle rush (Juncus roemarianus) typically grows closer to the shoreline and is darker in color. Smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) grows in the wetter areas closer to the creek and is typically lighter green in color. In the late fall and winter, these two grasses create a beautiful mosaic of greens, tans and browns. Notice the changes in color and patterns of these grasses as the seasons change. Many other plants also grow in these tidal zones. Estuarine tidal marshes are extremely valuable as they are the breeding ground for many saltwater fish, crabs and shrimp.
Rosemary Scrub Gated Access
Native rosemary (Conradina spp.) is found along the Rosemary Scrub Trail. This plant, a relative of the common rosemary used in cooking, is very drought tolerant and thus able to grow in the sandy, nutrient-poor soils of the rosemary/oak scrub. The plant has adapted to the harsh, dry environment by developing chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants nearby. This inhibition minimizes competition from other plants for scarce resources. It also repels plant eaters. The dry sandy scrub is extremely attractive to developers, and as a result, the Florida Rosemary Scrub is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the world. Many of the species in this small area, including the Florida rosemary, are listed by state and federal agencies as endangered, or threatened, plants. Enjoy looking at the rosemary, deer lichen, and other unusual plants in this area, but please do not disturb them and stay within the trail’s boundaries.
Seasonal Pond / Depression Marsh
This saucer-shaped depression alternates between a shallow lake during wet periods and a dry grassy bowl during dry periods. The vegetation in seasonal ponds typically grows in concentric rings. These rings can be correlated to the wetness of each zone. The predominant plant species in this feature is red root [Lachnanthes caroliniana], which indicates that the marsh was destroyed recently, probably by the mining in the mid-20th century. Observe that a variety of forbes and grasses are returning to different portions of this seasonal pond. Within a hundred years or so, this marsh should recover.