Sunday, November 27, 2016

Florida's floating islands

By Jane Feehan 

Lakes with floating islands dot the globe in countries with marshlands, notably in Tasmania, Brazil, Congo, Burma, The Netherlands and the U.S. Central Florida touts a number of them, drawing the interest of tourists and scientists.

Orange Lake, located in Florida’s Alachua and Marion counties, and part of the St. Johns River system, floats several of these aquatic wildlife habitats. In 1937 this body of water made headlines and postcards as “Lake of a Thousand Floating Islands.”

A floating island, or tussock, comprised of plant root systems of cattails, reeds, bulrush and other species, occurs when water runs too deep for roots to reach bottom, so they orient toward the surface for oxygen. Some islands are small, others expand to acres in size and grow trees. One island with a maple tree was featured decades ago in Robert Ripley’s Believe it or Not compendium of the bizarre. Some say these island trees serve as sails when windy, eerily moving a root system across the water. Documented as growing eight to 50 inches in diameter, island-dwelling trees generally live a decade or two.

Floating islands in Florida serve as home to raccoons, aquatic rabbits, a variety of birds and at times, alligators. Bass fisherman and tourists flock to Orange Lake, which loses about 30 percent of its water each year through a network of sinkholes, an important feature of the area’s hydrology.
Orange Creek Basin,
Osceloa Co.

Orange Lake may be the best known Florida lake for floating islands but others are located in Lake Yarbo in Winter Garden, and Lake Buckeye and Lake Idyl in Winter Haven. Anglers find floating islands to be a nuisance. So does the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Invasive Plant Management, which spent more than $18 million in 2004-2006 for cleaning up organic buildup adversely affecting fish and wildlife habitats. BIPM is the largest program in managing invasive species on public lands in the U.S.

Tourist attraction or nuisance, Florida’s floating islands add to the area’s semi-tropical mystique.  

Ocala Star Banner, Dec. 28, 1953
Ocala Star Banner, Jul. 31, 1986
St. Johns Water Management District
University of Florida
Florida Department of Environmental Protection

Florida, Jane Feehan, floating islands, tourism, semi-tropics, history, Orange Lake

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