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Written & narrated by Munsell McPhillips
Produced by Amelia Tree Conservancy

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Maritime forests develop under the influence of salt spray on barrier islands and near estuaries. Historically, maritime forests based on the climate in each area rimmed our coasts. Today, few examples remain as a result of coastal development.


What remains of the maritime forest on Amelia Island is part of the southeastern maritime forest that once extended from southern Virginia to Florida. More specifically, based on geomorphology, it is part of the Georgia Embayment, which extends from Cape Romain, SC, down through the Talbot Islands.

What types of trees are native to our maritime forest?

The maritime forest in our area is typically characterized by a high canopy of Live Oak and an understory dominated by Saw Palmetto. Other than these plants, the most common canopy trees in our Amelia Island maritime forest include Laurel Oak, Water Oak, Sabal (Cabbage) Palm, Hickory, Southern Magnolia, Red Cedar, and several types of Pine. In areas that are more sheltered from salt spray, Red Maple and Hackberry are quite common. The understory includes: Wax Myrtle, American Holly, Yaupon Holly, Dahoon Holly, Sparkleberry, and Beautyberry. The environment created by these trees requires a long time to develop.


“The maritime forest can be distinguished from the shrub forest by its clearly defined canopy. This high canopy shades out many of the shrub forest plants. Some plants are able to survive in this low light environment and make up the understory of the forest. The soil in the forest is very moist and fertile to support these large trees. It may take up to a century for these types of soil conditions to develop.” – A Guide to a Georgia Barrier Island  (1996)

How does the environment shape the forest?

SALT is the primary factor determining what can and can’t survive in a maritime forest. The salt spray (“salt aerosol”) burns the leaves of the plants. For example, Live Oak has a high tolerance for salt; however, the salt burns the young leaves as they emerge above the canopy. This gives the tops of the trees the appearance of being pruned and prompts the limbs to grow horizontally, rather than vertically.

Another factor that shapes the maritime forest is the periodic overwash of salt water from storms. Those trees and understory plants living near the ocean have a higher salt tolerance than those just beyond the reach of most salt spray.


WIND also shapes the maritime forest trees. We can actually identify the predominant direction of the wind by looking at the trees. Smaller trees and shrubs along the edge of the forest closest to the ocean and along the ocean-facing side of openings in the canopy demonstrate how the smaller growth helps to direct the winds up over the taller trees so that they are not damaged by wind and salt.


SAND is constantly on the move and is limited in nutrients, so this influences the formation of the forest until soil can be developed.

What Our Trees Do For Us

Mediate Our Climate

Trees can cool a city by up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by shading our homes and streets and releasing water vapor into the air through their leaves. They also reduce heat loss at night.

Protect Us From Storm Damage

Trees manage storm water runoff by retaining rain in their leaves and root systems. This prevents flooding. The fewer trees we have, the more expensive infrastructure we need to invest in. Trees break the force of wind and water and usher it above our houses. They also stabilize coastal soil and sand and prevent erosion.

Contribute to the Sustainability of Amelia Island

To contribute to our sustainability in an era of sea level rise and maintain lower flood insurance rates, FEMA recommends conservation of wetlands and forested areas.

Serve As A Habitat For Animals & Plants

Small animals and insects live in our trees, while larger animals need extensive forested land to satisfy their range needs. Both native and migratory birds find refuge and raise their offspring in our trees every year. Many beautiful native understory plants live below the canopy of our large shade trees.

Clean Our Air & Water

Trees absorb CO2 and release oxygen. During a year, a mature tree will absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Studies show that global forests removed about one-third of fossil fuel emissions annually between 1990 and 2007. Forested watersheds also provide quality drinking water for more than 180 million Americans.

Reduce Energy Use & Save  Us Money

Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30% and can save 20–50% in energy used for heating. Using less AC and heat reduces CO2 emissions.

Contribute To Our Economy

Trees maintain our property values. Numerous studies have demonstrated that properties with trees on or near them have a significantly higher selling price and are on the market for significantly less time. They provide income for Amelia Island businesses by attracting visitors and residents.

Create Positive Health in Humans

Studies have demonstrated that they make a difference in promoting healing and wellness, promote psychological well being and reduce crime.

Create A Beautiful Environment

It has always been known that trees are responsible for aesthetic pleasure as well as attract tourists, artists, retirees, and people interested in outdoor sports.

Can You Measure These Benefits?

i-Tree, a software suite initially released in 2006 that is state-of-the-art and peer-reviewed, yet provides some tools we can all use. These tools are the result of a collaborative effort involving the US Forest Service, the Arbor Day Foundation, the International Society of Arboriculture, and Davey and Casey Trees. They provide urban and rural forestry analysis, and benefits assessment tools. i-Tree Tools are in the public domain and are freely accessible at

i-Tree can be used with a group of trees or a single tree. An easy tool to get started with is i-Tree Design, under the dropdown menu for i-Tree Tools


While i-Tree does not address all of the benefits of our trees, it does give us a sense of some of the quantifiable benefits of our trees.

More details regarding the benefits of trees and the supporting research and be found on the Arbor Day website

Did You Know?

Maritime Forests are also known as Maritime Hammocks. They provide some of the most iconic images of the real Florida. Amelia Island is home to one of the finest examples. Click here for a little more information from the Florida Natural Areas Inventory.

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Protect our endangered maritime forest

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