Dominated by longleaf pines, slash pines, pond pines, and low-growing saw palmettos, the trees in flatwoods are a major part of the terrestrial ecosystem in Florida, covering nearly fifty percent of the state’s land area. People who made their homes in the backwoods of the Florida flatwoods, once known as “Crackers,” are described by Lois Lenski in her children’s story Strawberry Girl: “They came to the flatwoods at last, where their feet made a soft patter on the pine-needled path. Innumerable tall straight trunks of giant pines rose up on all sides to join their tops in a green roof overhead.” Flatwoods trees grow on level ground created by sea level changes during the glacial period. Increases in sea level caused floods on the flatlands, which were covered with thick layers of sand. Pine trees eventually established themselves in that sandy soil. Settlers who came upon these lands found that pine flats had such open underbrush that a man could easily drive a wagon through them. In areas such as Illinois, flatwoods grow on clay hardpan—a layer of firm, finely textured clay particles. Hardpan forms a barrier to rooting, so the majority of these trees have shallow roots. White-tailed deer, black bear, fox, squirrel, and the rare red-cockaded woodpecker are among the many animals that depend on a flatwoods environment. These habitats are also important breeding areas for amphibians; in the northern flatwoods, the blue-spotted salamander is common, while the southern flatwoods are the habitat of the northern crawfish frog. Tales of strange, alien flatwood creatures have also loomed large—a story told long ago in the town of Flatwoods, West Virginia, described the sighting of one slimy giant in the hills of Braxton County. The rumor has been retold and passed down through generations—the area is known to this day as the “Home of the Green Monster.”

Elizabeth Cox