| Vol. 1, No. 1 - March, 1953 - pp. 6-10.|
REAL FURNITURE MAHOGANY grows in the Everglades National
Park as a native tree of the United States. Actually there are three mahoganies of commercial
importance: West Indian (Swietenia mahogani) that
grows in southern Florida and in the Caribbean area;
tropical American (Swietenia macrophylla) that
grows in Central and South America; and the African mahogany
(Khaya ivorensis) from the West African coast.
South Florida no longer has commercial quantities of the
West Indian mahogany, although there are many trees still
growing on the Florida Keys and the southern tip of the
peninsula. Even as late as 1940 the writer has seen large
mahogany logs being taken from the Keys and the Cape Sable
area. Furthermore, the tree is extensively planted in
southern Florida as a parkway and landscape tree and in
some areas has seeded into adjacent pine woods.
To see the largest mahogany tree of the Park, one has to be prepared
for a hard two and a half mile hike to the west through sawgrass,
after leaving a point on the road to Cape Sable about fifteen
miles south of the first ranger station. At this point the road
turns due south from a west and southwesterly course. Mahogany
trees are associated with jungle territory and the big trees of
the Park are located in "hammocks" that are the nearest
approach to jungle growth to be found on the U. S. mainland. These
hammocks tend to be circular in shape and the largest in this
area is about one-quarter of a mile in diameter. Looking west
from the road the hammocks appear as dark, rounded mounds of
trees low on the horizon and, as one walks, individual hammocks
gradually take on form until a dark wall appears to spring abruptly
from the sawgrass prairie. In this area one usually sees an eagle
high overhead. In season hawks rise from their nests to scream
their warning and fresh deer tracks tell the intruder that he
has disturbed the peacefulness of the expansive area.
As one enters the hammock by following a deer path
through the dense, tangled growth so characteristic of the margin of south Florida
hammocks, peace and stillness return. The jungle opens and overhead is the canopy
of tall trees; tropical mahogany and temperate zone Virginia oak. Smaller trees
and shrubs are mostly of tropical source. Large vines grow everywhere and royal
palms, cabbage palms, Paurotis palms, and saw palmetto add to the tropical
appearance. Air plantsbromeliads, orchids, and fernsgrow in profusion
on living limbs and fallen tree trunks. Strangler figs are everywhere. Underneath,
the accumulation of leaf litter and leaf mold is deep and the impression is
that here nature has been at work unhindered for years. Here the tropical plants
meet their temperate neighbors. Here the salt marsh plants of nearby Florida
Bay meet the fresh water plants of the Everglades. It is a transition zone and
it is unique.
The large trees show hurricane damage often repeated and frequently a windfall
is found. Root systems so exposed show that the hammock is, in a sense, "floating"
on the marl prairie and actually the roots do not penetrate the underlying marl.
The elevation is so near sea level that the water table is high all the year
and thus prevents deep rooting. The trees actually create their own growing
medium as their litter accumulates. On the margin of the hammock
there is evidence that the jungle is invading the sawgrass prairie and year
by year is slowly growing larger. Small and young trees occupy the margin. Inside
near the center are the big parent trees.
There are large oaks and larger mahoganies. The largest mahogany found
to date has been reported by the writer to the American Forestry Association
as the largest of its kind in the United States and it has been so listed
in their Big Three Project. Botany classes of the University of Miami
have photographed, measured and studied these trees for several years.
The largest has a circumference of twelve feet six inches, four and one-half
feet above the ground, a crown spread of seventy-five feet and
an estimated height of seventy feet. It is well preserved and
has a clear butt log of twenty feet. This tree compares favorably
with the commercial mahogany logs that average from nine to
eighteen feet in circumference. However, in the true tropics
they occasionally grow to thirty-seven feet in circumference.
Here in south Florida, even as in the tropics to the south, mahogany
is "King of the Forest." Now that these trees are protected
in this area they should become even more spectacular in centuries