Bromeliads in the Everglades  

bromeliadsWhat is a bromeliad? A bromeliad is an air plant that can be found within the Everglades.  Many are native to Florida. All of these bromeliads belong to the pineapple family.  

In the Everglades, the type that can be found are genus Tillandsia. All of this plants within this particular species of bromeliads have silvery-green leaves. The top of this species often resembles the top of a pineapple.  

You can find these plants in abundance all over the parks, in all habitats, including dwarf cypress forests and cypress domes. They also can be found in hardwood hammocks, tree islands, mangrove forests, lone trees in sawgrass marshes, and on the branches of planted trees in parking lots of the park. You can’t escape these bromeliads!  

Some bromeliads, like the giant airplant, hold water; they do this so when dry/drought conditions occur, they will have a water source to survive from. However, the giant airplant isn’t the only life form that benefits from this water. Insects, snakes, and tree frogs can be found in this plant’s leaves to take in the water.  

Other bromeliads don’t old water, but they do have a hollow chamber in their base where acrobat ants make their home. The bromeliad gets its nutrients from the ants’ waste.  

Not all bromeliads are insect/other creature-friendly. Some bromeliads, like the powdery catopsis, are covered with fine scales, which makes it hard for insects to get a grip on the leaves. The insects end up slipping into the water and drown. Some researchers believe these particular bromeliads may be a carnivorous plant for this reason.  

Although bromeliads are abundant in the Everglades, they do have an “enemy.” The invasive Mexican bromeliad weevil feed on the tissue of bromeliads as a larva. This insect can easily decimate bromeliad populations; however, it has not been spotted in the Everglades since the 1990s.  

Come see these bromeliads for yourself on an airboat tour! Captain Mitch’s Everglades airboat tours give you access to the expansive wildlife and plant life the region has to offer. To book your Everglades airboat tour today, click our everglades airboat tour page  or call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 239-695-3377. 


Everglades Plant Spotlight: The Ghost Orchid

ghost orchidThe Ghost Orchid is one of the Everglades’ most rare and endangered plants.

Known in the scientific world as Dendrophylax lindenii, the Ghost Orchid is prized for its delicate, white flower petals. It gets its name from the nocturnal movement of the flower, which resembles a ghost.

Ghost Orchids enjoy conservation protection in Florida, and it’s illegal to tamper with or collect them. As of December 2016, it was believed that only about 2,000 plants remained in the wild. Poaching, as well as human development, continues to threaten its existence.

The Ghost Orchid can be found locally in Big Cypress National Preserve, along with more than 30 other types of orchids.

Visually, the plant appears as a leafless, tangled mass of green roots hugging the trunk of a host tree. It’s often found in deep swamps of cypress, pond apple, and palm trees, and can be distinguished from other orchid varieties by thin white markings on its root system.

The Ghost Orchid requires very specific environmental conditions to grow: high humidity, mild temperatures, shade, and the presence of mycorrhizal fungi. It can also be found in the Bahamas and Cuba, but thrives under a different set of conditions than those in southern Florida.

The Ghost Orchid’s flower blooms in June and July, and it’s pollinated by the giant sphinx moth, which typically visits more than one plant in its nightly travels. The sphinx moth’s tongue easily reaches the plant’s pollen; other insects have difficulty getting to it.

The popularity of Ghost Orchids grew after Susan Orlean’s 1998 book, “The Orchid Thief,” which was later turned into the 2002 film, “Adaptation.” Researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville recently developed a way to culture the seeds, grow the plants in greenhouses, and re-introduce them into the wild.

Want to go hunting for Ghost Orchids? Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours in Everglades City, Florida, can show you many of the flora and fauna found in the Everglades. To book a tour, visit our website or call 800-368-0065.

The Everglades’ Seagrass is Disappearing

seagrassYou might know that there’s a lot of seagrass around Florida and throughout the Everglades.; there’s 7 kinds of seagrass in Florida to be exact. But, did you know that this seagrass is dying? Much of the beautiful green, flowering seagrasses in the waters of the Everglades are turning brown and dying off. Last year, National Park Service researchers discovered a 40,000-acre section of seagrass in Florida Bay that is dying. Seagrass provides food and shelter for many different species for marine life, while also maintaining water quality. If this grass dies off, animals, fish, and even humans will be impacted negatively.

Why is the seagrass dying? There are a few reasons that attribute to the decline in this grass. Human development over the past 100 years has disrupted the natural flow of water in the Everglades. Between roads and homes, the ecosystem has been altered, which has resulted in declines in plant and animal life. Another cause of the seagrass’s decline is climate change. Climate change is causing the sea level to rise, which has increased the salinity of the water. Many droughts throughout the years have also caused stress on the seagrass.

In Florida Bay, sport fishing is popular and is a billion-dollar business, which will be disturbed if the seagrass continues to disappear.

The only way to combat this die off is through the work of restoration efforts in the Everglades to restore the natural flow of fresh water. Florida Bay, like most of the Everglades, needs fresh water to flow north to south from Lake Okeechobee to thrive and survive.

If the seagrass dies, not only will it take away a food and shelter source for many creatures, it will begin to release nutrients that will feed into algae blooms, which will take over the water and basically suffocate any remaining seagrass in the water as they have become blocked from the sunlight.

And it isn’t just the Everglades, seagrass decline is a world-wide problem. Since the late 1800s, seagrass has declined by 29 percent.

Right now, restoration efforts are being done to lift up 2.5 miles of the Tamiami Trail that is blocking the natural water flow southward. It is believed if this road is lifted, the water flow will return to its original state. This is set to be completed by 2020.

The Everglades is a delegate ecosystem; the seagrass produces oxygen and is a food and shelter source for so many livening organisms. It helps keep the water clean by trapping sediments, as well. If you’re interested in seeing this vital plant and the rest of the majestic Everglades, a great way to explore is on an airboat. Join Captain Mitch on an airboat tour! He’s been bringing people around the Everglades for decades. It’s an experience you’re sure to never forget. To book an airboat trip, click here or call 800-368-0065.


The Consequences of Invasive Species in the Florida Everglades

invasive speciesThe Florida Everglades have long been a popular tourist destination for visitors from around the United States and around the world. It is easy to see why so many people make this a must see place on their “bucket lists” since it is a unique, one of a kind landscape that gives you access to an incredibly diverse and sensitive environment. The Everglades is a wilderness preserve like no other, allowing visitors a chance to experience flora and fauna that can’t be seen many (if any) other place on earth.

However, there has been consequences from urbanization and tourism. As population has grown, the Everglades have been encroached upon more and more. Some of the swamps were drained to make way for residential, commercial, or industrial complexes as the nearby cities demanded more jobs and places to live. Now, thankfully, what remains of the Everglades is protected and kept as safe as possible from further encroachment or pollution.

It isn’t just people that have been trying to worm their way into the Everglades and snuff out the native species that once thrived there. Foreign plants and animals, often referred to as invasive species, pose, perhaps, an even graver threat to the health of the ecosystem than humans do, though they would never have been a problem had it not been for humans.

When we began to trade further and further from our own shores, with those goods we asked for, came things we didn’t. As trade expanded, new plants and animals that hitch rides across the sea via trade cargo boats, landed on the shores and began to take over, as they didn’t face the native predators in this new place that they did at home. Many of these species quickly took advantage of their new environment and spread rapidly and aggressively.

A lot of the native plants and animals are specialists, which means they require a pretty stable and exact ecosystem to thrive or even survive. As invasive species have made their way into sensitive areas like the Everglades, the native plants find their nutrients and food sources dwindling and can often not compete with the foreign invaders. It often doesn’t even take very long for these invaders to almost completely push out the native flora and fauna, leaving behind a very different landscape.

It is for this reason that there are such staunch rules about the importation of plants and animals from abroad. It is helpful to be cognizant of this problem if you plan to visit the Everglades and it is advised that you take steps, especially if you are visiting internationally, to ensure that you do not bring any potentially harmful spores, seeds, or bugs to the sensitive landscape.

Looking to explore the Everglades? Go for a ride in an airboat tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours. Here, you’ll be able to see both the native and invasive species up close. To book a tour, click here or call 800-368-0065.

The Everglades’ Threatened and Endangered Species

endangered species everglades airboat toursThe Everglades is an amazing and pristine ecosystem that is a unique biome that is home to a huge wealth of different flora and fauna. For nature lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, and adventure seekers alike, the Everglades is a one-of-a-kind place that is unmatched. A lot of people, when planning a vacation to the Everglades, choose to experience Everglades National Park, which is a protected area of the Everglades where plants, animals, birds, and fish are protected and conserved.

One of the most interesting and humbling aspects of visiting the Park is that it (and the Everglades in general) are home to a number of threatened and endangered species of plant and animal. This means that in this environment, you have the opportunity to see truly endangered species that are at risk of extinction. These are species that need to be protected and saved because of their biological diversity and importance to the functioning of the overall ecosystem.

What a rare honor to have the chance to see creatures that may number in just the tens. Sadly, with each passing year, it seems that more plants and animals become threatened, endangered, or extinct, but with preservation efforts like those are many national parks, we can at least hope to save and protect small areas that these creatures can safely dwell within.

There are a number of different threatened and endangered species that you might encounter on a trip to the Everglades. What follows is a brief rundown of the same species that are included on the protected list.

Threatened or endangered species of animal that call the Everglades home include:

  • American Alligator
  • American Crocodile
  • Sea Turtles
  • Manatees
  • Florida Panther
  • Various Bird Species

The park is also home to a variety of threatened and endangered plants that include:

  • Buccaneer Palm
  • Florida Thatch Palm
  • Tree Cactus
  • Manchineel
  • King’s Holly
  • Silver Thatch Palm
  • Bitter Thatch Palm
  • Lignum-Vitae

The protection of these plants and animals is vital and also our responsibility. Man is the reason that these habitats have been continually encroached upon and altered beyond repair. Since the degradation is our doing, we have the moral responsibility to save and protect that which remains. The Everglades National Park is home to a number of threatened and endangered plants and animals that can be seen nowhere else. Visiting the park gives you the opportunity to experience the once-in-a-lifetime honor of witnessing something rare and majestic.

To experience the wonders of this park first hand, jump on an airboat tour with Captain Mitch. To learn more, click the Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours page. Click here to book a airboat ride or call 800-368-0065 to reserve a spot today.

Everglades Invasive Species: Australian Pine

Australian PineThere are around 18,000 plants native to North America. These plants provide food, fiber, and habitats that people and wildlife depend on. Unfortunately, many invasive (non-native species) plants have become a threat to the native plants and are the second greatest threat (next to humans) to them. Many of these invasive plants have found their way into the Everglades. The Park staff work throughout the year to remove these plants whenever they can in order to protect the natural habitat. One of these invasive species is the Australian Pine (Casuarina equisetifolia).They have invaded thousands of acres in southern Florida.

The Australian Pine, as you may have guessed, is native to Australia, but also to Malaysia and southern parts of Asia. This plant came to Florida in the late 1800s and was used for ditch and canal stabilization, along with for its shade and lumber.

This tree is tall and can grow up to 100 feet or more. Its needles have a soft appearance and it produced small, oval cones. This tree grows fast and can provide thick shade to an area. Its leaves and fruit completely cover the ground under it. The checmicals from the leaves and keep other plants from growing in that area. Because its roots can produce nitrogen, it can grow well even in soil that is poor. However once it is growing, it can change the light, temperature, and soil of the beach habitats because it displaces native species and destroys the natural habitat for wildlife and insects. Because of these shallow roots, they tend to topple over during storms and high winds, which can cause hazards. Since it does not have thick of shallow roots, it helps contribute to beach and dune erosion, which negatively affects the ways sea turtles and alligators nest.  By displacing deep-rooted native plants, beaches are more prone to erosion.  They also provide little to no habitat for the wildlife in the area.

As of right now, manual removal of seedlings and saplings is recommended. If there is a heavier infestation of the Australian pine, a systemic type of herbicide is applied to bark, stumps, or foliage. Planned fires also are used when able. They are resistant to salt spray.

Visit the Everglades

If you’d like to help with the removal of invasive species, contact the Everglades National Park service and see what you can do to help. Many times, if you spot a plant in the Everglades that you think is invasive, you can notify a park ranger and they will look into it. While you’re visiting the Everglades, explore the area even more on an airboat tour. Call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here to book a tour today.

Cacti and Succulents of the Everglades

cacti Did you know cacti and succulents grow in the Everglades? Surprising, right? These plants don’t just grow in deserts. In fact, many grow in tropical and subtropical climates. The species, native to the Everglades, thrive off the frequent rainfall and the sunny dates. They require a balance of wet and dry conditions.

In the Everglades, the Simpson’s applecactus (Harrisia simpsonii) is listed as endangered by Florida. This cacti has white, large, night-blooming flowers that are quite fragrant, and it produces a prickly fruit. It is known as “Queen of the Night” because the flowers open only during the night. Bats, moths, and other insects pollinate the flowers. Along with the Simpson’s applecactus, the mistletoe cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera) is also endangered and hasn’t been seen in the park in 12 years after the last plant was destroyed by a hurricane.

Many species of the prickly-pear cactus exist in the Everglades; these cacti is known by its fleshy green pads, large yellow/orange/red cup-shaped flowers and reddish-purple pear-shaped fruits. The fruits it produces are called tunas. Each flower only blooms for one day.

Lastly, the columnar dildo (triangle cactus) is in the Everglades and can grow up to 23 feet; it has large, white flowers that open from midnight to dawn. This plant produces shiny, red fruit.

As far as succulents go, the agave decipiens grows on shells mounts in the Everglades that were created years ago by Native Americans; they are bright green and have spiny leaves. Tequila, mescal, and other drinks come from the Agave. The wormvine vanilla (Vanilla barbellata) is an endangered succulent with a thick stem that stores water; they product beautiful flowers. Shoreline seapurslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum) grows on coastal prairies and beach dunes in the Everglades. It has thick leaves and a reddish/green stem with pink flowers that only open a few hours a day. It is a ground-covering species that stabilizing sand dunes, which helps prevent beach erosion.

Check Out These Everglades Plants in Real Life

Looking to catch a glimpse of some of these beautiful cacti and succulents? Well, then it’s time to take a trip to the Everglades. While you’re there, try out an airboat tour. You won’t be disappointed. To schedule an airboat tour, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.

The Pinelands

The Pine Rocklands, pinelandsalso called the Pinelands, are a disappearing habitat in the Everglades and all South Florida. These rocklands are found on limestone substrates. These Pinelands once covered around 185,000 acres in Miami-Dade County, and by 1996 only 2 percent of this forest remained in the urbanized areas of the county and outside the border of the Everglades National Park. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has recently proposed a list of four more plants in the Florida pine rockland ecosystem to receive federal protection. Three at risk species include: The Everglades bully, the Florida pineland crabgrass, and the pineland sandmat; one species is being considered as endangered: the Florida prairie-clover.

According to the Southeast regional director of the FWC, these four plants have declined by 80 percent in the last two decades. The primary threats these plants are facing are habitat loss and modification from sea-level rise, wildfires, and urban development. However, the pine rockland ecosystem is well adapted to fire that helps it survive better in the presence of fire that isn’t too intense.

The Everglades bully, a tall shrub with white flowers, only exists in 10 populations; the Florida pineland crabgrass, a blue-green perennial grass, is only found in the park and preserve; the pineland sandmat, a small perennial shrub, grows up to six feet, is found in the Big Cypress Preserve and 7 other locations in Miami-Dad county. The reason these plants have a high extinction risk is because the small populations have a limited to no chance for recolonization if hit by wildfires or extreme weather.

Hundreds of specials have been waiting for protection but these four are finally getting protection to survive and recover. It’s important to keep these plants alive and well as they help making up a nesting habitat for many species.

Visit the Disappearing Habitat

Although there are many efforts to save the Everglades, the area is still at high risk from disappearing from the Earth. The Everglades is a truly majestic place and needs to be seen in person for a person to fully embrace its beautiful. One great way to get a glimpse of the Everglades is on an airboat tour. To book a tour with Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours, click here or call 800-368-0065.

Plant profile: Pond Apple

pond appleThe Everglades is home to an array of plants that thrive in the wet, subtropical climate. Although mangroves and grasses come to many people’s minds when thinking about plant life in the Everglades, we’d like to profile a plant that many people might not know about that is native to the area: the pond apple.

The pond apple, Annona glabra, is a shrub or small tree with evergreen leaves, white/pale yellow thick-petal flowers and large fruit.  This plant is also known as alligator apple, swamp apple, corkwood, and monkey apple. Along with the Everglades, this plant is also native in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, South America, West Africa, and South Asia.

They can grow up to 30 to 40 feet tall by 10 to 20 feet wide. As a young pond apple tree, the bark is gray and scale; as the tree gets older, the bark becomes fissured and can turn to a reddish-brown color. These trees can be found along streams and rivers banks, canal banks, slough swamps, freshwater ponds, lakes, and strands. The pond apple is known to flourish around bald cypress trees. They tolerate salt water and cannot grow in dry soil.

In the past, there was a pond apple forest at the southern end of Lake Okeechobee, but due do drainage over the years this habitat was destroyed. Still, the largest numbers of this species of tree are found in the Everglades, but they can also be found throughout other areas of Florida.

Native Indians and settlers to the Everglades ate the fruit off this tree, but it is now considered unsavory for humans to eat. Most of the fruit will mature and fall of the trees in the fall and winter. When they drop, they are green or green/yellow in color. The fruit has a sweet aroma and the pulp is fleshy, mealy, and pithy. The flesh is yellow/orange in color and is filled with more than 100 dark-colored seeds within. The seeds are poisonous, and powder from the seeds have been known to blind people. The seeds and leaves of this plant are known to be insecticidal. More recent studies are showing that the seeds contain anticancer compound, which may be able to be used medically. Birds, raccoons, squirrels, and alligators have been known to eat the pond apple fruit.

Not only does the pond apple provide food for many animals in the Everglades, it also provides shelter and creates a safe haven for many, as well.

Visit the Pond Apple’s Habitat

Explore where this fruit-filled tree thrives while on an airboat ride. An airboat can take you through many places in the Everglades with the opportunity to see this plant, along with hundreds of other species of plants, many of which are unique only to the River of Grass. To book an airboat tour, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.

Everglades Habitats: A Dynamic Ecosystem

Everglades National Park - UsaThe Everglades is an internationally protected wilderness that hosts flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world. Its diverse ecosystem weaves intricate webs of trees and marshes amid freshwater estuaries, all of which bleed into the Gulf of Mexico. There are nine habitats in the Everglades, and each plays an important role in the vitality of the area’s plants and animals. From swamps to pine forests, here’s what you can expect to find in each habitat, and which plant and wildlife can be found where:

Freshwater slough

Sloughs are chiefly responsible for water circulation throughout the Everglades. These flooded, sunken areas of land slowly but surely distribute freshwater to other areas of the ecosystem. There are two sloughs in Everglades National Park: Taylor Slough and the larger and more-popular Shark River Slough, also known as the “River of Grass.” Both of these ensure freshwater reaches the Florida Bay. Because of their abundance of drinking water, sloughs are popular wildlife congregation sites. Visit Everglades sloughs in the dry season (November through May) for the best chance to spot alligators lounging in the sun.

Hardwood hammock

Hardwood hammocks are dry, slightly elevated concentrations of tropical and temperate trees with broad leaves. Due to their raised nature, hardwood hammock habitats don’t often flood. The trees grow close together, creating overhead canopies with shade from the sun. This allows ferns to flourish. A stroll through a hardwood hammock will expose you to the red-limbed Gumbo Limbo tree along with mahogany, oak, maple and more. Keep your eye out for the “Jewel of the Hammock,” the vibrantly colored tree snail. A natural ornament, these snails latch inconspicuously onto tree bark. Remember they’re protected, so don’t bother the little living jewels.


Similar to hardwood hammocks, pineland habitats grow on higher ground. Also known as Pine Rocklands, here skinny slash pine trees grow tall out of a hard limestone surface. Around the trees’ roots thrive various species of palm, from the adequately named saw palmetto to the edible sable palm. Believe it or not, pinelands rely heavily on fire for survival. Natural and human-induced brush fires strip the land, providing more space and sunlight for seeds to sprout. Over the years, pineland trees adapted to fires by acquiring thick bark and growing needles only where the fire can’t reach, toward the crown of the tree.

Coastal lowlands

This is a habitat for the most resilient flora. Found near the shore of the Gulf Coast, coastal lowlands are no stranger to severe weather, which restricts the growth of mangroves and other tall trees. Desert plants usually survive in coastal lowlands because they can withstand harsh storms without much protection. At the sandy lowlands you’ll see short, salt-tolerant shrubs like succulents. Look out for shoreline seapurslane, an herb that grows close to the ground and spreads wide across the sand. It may appear unimportant, but this succulent actually protects the shoreline from erosion by capturing sand grains in its mane, thus preserving the beach’s body.


The Everglades boast the most abundant population of mangroves in the entire hemisphere. Since these trees thrive where freshwater and saltwater meet, you’ll find plentiful mangrove forests sprinkled all along the coast of south Florida. These salt-tolerant mangrove trees come in three colors: red, white and black, all of which nurture plant and water life. Mangrove habitats provide essential nutrients to marine animals by depositing fallen leaves into the water. Because of the nutrient-rich water and the shelter formed by mangrove roots, many fish and crustaceans call mangrove forests their home. During low tide, you’ll often find wading birds fishing in the brackish water, thus completing the mangrove habitat food chain.


These towering trees grow in many ways. You can find them growing in standing water or in breaks in the hard ground. When the limestone surface of a pineland habitat breaks, it gives way to “solution holes.” Often clusters of cypress trees grow inside these weathered pits, with the larger trees concentrated in the center. Dwarf cypress trees result from inadequate growing conditions, thus limiting their germination. Finally, cypress strands comprise tall, slender cypress trees in a swamp setting. Keep a look out for river otters lounging on low-lying cypress trunks. Another popular inhabitant of cypress swamps is the American Alligator.

Marine and estuarine

All eyes on Florida Bay. This is the Everglades’ largest water body, and with its space comes an abundance of aquatic life. Freshwater from Everglades estuaries mixes with salt water from the Gulf of Mexico to create the brackish conditions in Florida Bay. Towards the bottom of the bay you’ll find coral, mollusks and a plethora of gamefish. Closer to the surface, bottlenose dolphins swim in pods, loggerhead turtles coast leisurely, and West Indian Manatees float with their young. Because of the bay’s shallow depth – about three feet – wading birds capitalize on low tide fishing opportunities.

See them all

The best way to experience all nine Everglades habitats is by airboat. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours expose you to the Everglades’ grandeur from the safe and comfortable seats of open-space airboat. Call Captain Mitch today at 239-695-3377 or click here to schedule your Everglades adventure.