Okefenokee Prairies and Fire

Okefenokee Swamp prairie habitat along the Chesser Island Boardwalk Trail; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. November 13, 2021 ©www.williamwisephoto.com

Like the wide open prairies of the Midwest, the Okefenokee prairies are large, open spaces that are composed of grasses, herbs and shrubs, and are mostly devoid of trees. The biggest difference between the traditional prairies of the Midwest and the prairies of the Okefenokee is water… lots of water!

According to A Naturalist’s Guide to the Okefenokee Swamp, the prairie waters of the Okefenokee are shallow. Taylor Schoettle writes, “Most of the 33,000 acres of prairies vary from 6 to 18 inches deep at normal water levels, and the lakes deeper. The shallowness of much of the Okefenokee is accentuated by thick layer of peat which overlays the sandy bottom. The peat ranges from 5 to 10 feet thick throughout much of the swamp, and is up to 20 feet thick in places.”

Burned stump from wildfire on an Okefenokee Swamp Prairie; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. November 13, 2021 ©www.williamwisephoto.com

While the Okefenokee Swamp is in a constant succession from prairie toward hardwood forest, it is fire that has maintained the beautiful open prairies in the Okefenokee. Fires, caused primarily by lightning strike, regularly sweep through the Okefenokee, especially in times of drought, and consume the scrub and hardwoods that have taken root on floating peat beds within the prairies.

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