Have you heard about Pine Rockland Forest? The area is considered to be one of the world’s most endangered habitats, and it is nearby one of the biggest zoos in the US: Zoo Miami. The forest once covered 185,000 acres of Miami-Dade County, from North Miami Beach to Long Pine Key in the Everglades. But today, this ancient, snaking ridge is largely indistinguishable from its surrounding habitat: crystalline condos, strip malls, and asphalt voids. Today less than two percent of the pine rockland remains intact in the county, scattered in pockets so small that even most locals haven’t heard of it.
Before Miami was a city, Pine Rockland was a forest born from the bottom of the ocean. Stilt-like slash pines stretched toward the sky and jagged bunches of saw palmetto fanned out on an ancient limestone ridge, the fossilized remains of a coral reef over 100,000 years old. This ancient substrate is also so incredibly hard—more rock than soil—that its slow-growing plants have complicated root systems that feather deep into the ground to absorb nutrients. Though the Everglades certainly appear lush and teeming, it’s pine rockland that boasts the highest diversity of plant species of any habitat in the state.