Florida’s lengthy and colorful history has been largely influenced by its geographic location, which also explains the state’s very modern appearance. The majority of Florida is situated on a peninsula that extends southeastward from the North American continent, dividing the Atlantic Ocean’s waters from the Gulf of Mexico’s, and pointing farther out toward Cuba and the Caribbean Sea.
Only Georgia (east) and Alabama are the only states with which Florida shares a land border; both of them are located along its northern border (west). The island of Bimini in the Bahamas is the closest foreign territory, located about 50 miles (80 km) east of the state’s southernmost point.
With its northernmost point located around 100 miles (160 km) farther south than California’s southern border, Florida is the farthest south of the 48 contiguous United States. The southernmost region of the state is made up of the Florida Keys, a crescent-shaped group of islands that reaches the Tropic of Cancer within around 75 miles (120 km). Only Alaska has a longer coastline than Florida, which has a total marine shoreline of more than 8,400 miles (13,500 km), including about 5,100 miles (8,200 km) along the gulf.
The state is located close to the physical and populated centers of the Western Hemisphere, commanding one entry to the Gulf of Mexico and overlooking a crucial intersection of North and South America as well as ancient trade routes to the Mediterranean and European regions.
The region was given the name La Florida, which is Spanish for “The Flower,” and was claimed by Spain in 1513 by the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. Florida was a key player in historical conflicts between European countries over control of the Americas and the Caribbean. The earliest European settlement within what would eventually become the borders of the continental United States is St. Augustine, which was established in 1565 on the northeastern coast of Florida.
The “Sunshine State” has traditionally drawn a huge number of tourists because of its beautiful beauty and temperate climate. Florida’s economy now relies primarily on tourism rather than agriculture or manufacturing, and the promise of work in the state’s rapidly expanding service sector has attracted a large number of immigrants, primarily from Latin America. Florida has so consistently been listed among the states with the fastest-growing immigrant populations. 65,757 square miles in size (170,311 square km). (2020) Population: 21,538,187.
Florida is a low-lying plain that is geologically young and is often less than 100 feet (30 meters) above sea level. The highest point is only 345 feet (105 meters) above sea level, in Walton County, close to the Alabama border. The majority of the state is covered with sedimentary deposits of sand and limestone, with regions of peat and muck designating where freshwater bodies once existed.
Running water, waves, ocean currents, winds, variations in sea level, and the erosion of limestone rocks by solution have all significantly shaped the topography of today. Although these divisions are hardly visible to the unaided eye, these forces have caused enough variation in the state’s surface to allow classification into seven basic physiographic regions: the coastal lowlands, the Lake Okeechobee-Everglades basin, the Kissimmee lowlands, the Marianna lowlands, the central highlands, the Tallahassee hills, and the western highlands.
About three-fourths of the country is made up of coastal lowlands, which range in breadth from 10 to 100 miles (16 to 160 km). Generally speaking, the area is quite flat and frequently lies no higher than 25 feet (8 meters) above sea level. The majority of the region is swampland, and in the eastern section of the state, many ridges that were formerly beaches run parallel to one another. Many of the area’s beaches are offshore barrier bars, which also make up the majority of Florida’s best beaches.
Even though the Lake Okeechobee-Everglades basin and the Kissimmee lowlands are divisions of the coastal lowlands, their distinction from one another warrants it. The Everglades is frequently referred to as a “river of grass” and is actually a shallow, slow-moving river. It is 150 miles (240 km) long and 50 miles (80 km) broad. Florida’s main zone for sugarcane production is in the northern part, which has been modified with canals, dikes, and pumping stations.
Within the boundaries of Everglades National Park, the southern portion is protected and still exhibits a significant amount of its pre-European flavor. The large valley of the Kissimmee River, the main source of water flowing southward to Lake Okeechobee, is part of the Kissimmee lowlands, which are roughly the same area as the Lake Okeechobee-Everglades basin. A large portion of this area is a flat grassland where cattle farms and pastures predominate.
A small area in the northwest panhandle known as the Marianna lowlands is bordered on the east by the Apalachicola River and on the west by the Choctawhatchee River. The area has many sinkholes and caves and has been severely degraded.
The Marianna lowlands divide the western highlands, which stretch to the Alabama border on the west, from the eastern Tallahassee hills. They are both ancient highland plains that have been divided by waterways, and they are both roughly the same size (40 by 100 miles [65 by 160 km]). Together, they create a stunning, undulating landscape that is crucial for Florida’s field crop production.
Between the St. Johns River, which divides the central highlands from the eastern coastal lowlands, and the Suwannee River, which flows along the eastern edge of the Tallahassee hills, are the central highlands. The region stretches 400 miles (640 km) southward from the Georgian border to the vicinity of Arcadia and Sebring; its width ranges from 50 to 75 miles (80 to 120 km). The majority of Florida’s citrus acreage is located in the middle and southern parts of the region, where the terrain is rolling and dotted with thousands of lakes.
Drainage and soils
A latticework of over 1,700 streams (mainly in the north and northwest) and tens of thousands of lakes covers the flat Florida landscape (mostly in the central region). The majority of the nation’s first-magnitude artesian springs are in the state’s central region, which also hosts a sizeable portion of them.
The greatest drainage basin is the Lake Okeechobee-Everglades basin, which has an area of 17,000 square miles (44,000 square kilometers). The third biggest freshwater lake fully within the United States (after Lake Michigan and Alaska’s Iliamna Lake) is Lake Okeechobee, with a surface area of 700 square miles (1,800 square km). The state’s porous limestone substructure, which holds a lot of water, feeds this extensive water network.
Sand, sandy loam, clay, peat, and muck make up the majority of Florida’s soils, but more than 300 different varieties have been identified. (1) The flatwood lowland soils, which correlate to the coastal lowlands and make up the largest soil region in Florida, can be divided into six major soil regions. There, the ground is flat and covered by a hardpan that prevents drainage and promotes flooding. (2) Florida has an abundance of organic soils, especially in the Lake Okeechobee-Everglades basin.
Submergence frequently delays the oxidation, decay, and shrinkage of peat and muck in this damp climate, but when the soils are drained, they quickly deteriorate. (3) The Kissimmee Valley, the Big Cypress Swamp, and the Miami-Homestead region all have southern limestone soils. (4) The area across the state’s north contains northern upland soils, ranging from dry sands to well-drained loams. (5) Immediately to the south is a region known as the northern slope soils. (6) Central highland soils can be found in central Florida’s higher ridge region, westward to the Apalachicola River. There are numerous other soil types, such as the dunes that surround the state’s magnificent beaches and the swamps that reach deep into the state’s interior.
Florida is split into two sections based on climate. The state is subtropical north of a west-to-east line drawn from Bradenton along the south shore of Lake Okeechobee to Vero Beach, whereas the tropical zone is normally south of this line. The summers are the same all around Florida. Even as far south as Miami, there can be brief periods of freezing weather (which are frequently disastrous for agriculture), but the Keys have never experienced frost.
Summertime is when it rains the most, while wintertime is when it’s dryer. From Key West’s 40 inches (1,000 mm) to West Palm Beach’s 62 inches (1,575 mm) of annual rainfall, respectively. There are reports of snowfall as far south as Miami and on occasion in the northern regions. In the summer, lightning strikes are most common along the state’s west coast.
Although Florida is no more susceptible to hurricanes (tropical cyclones) than the other Gulf Coast states or, in fact, the entire Atlantic coast as far north as Boston, they do hit the state on average once a year. Though September is the month when they are most likely to occur, the hurricane season lasts from June to November.
The Great Hurricane (1928), which remains the most lethal hurricane to strike Florida, and Hurricane Andrew (1992), which ravaged southern Florida and left behind significant property damage, are two of the most prominent storms. From 68 °F (20 °C) in Tallahassee in the north to 77 °F (25 °C) in Key West in the south, the average yearly temperatures vary little. The corresponding monthly averages are in the lower 80s °F (27 to 29 °C) in August and vary from the mid-40s °F (6 to 8 °C) in the north to the mid-50s °F (12 to 14 °C) in the south in January.
Plants and Animals in Florida
In Florida, thousands of plant species have been identified. Several hundred of these are trees, many of which are found in the state’s forests, which make up nearly half of the total area. The most common species include mangroves, pines, oaks, cypresses, and palms. The southern parts of the state are home to many tropical trees, while the northern parts are populated by beech, red maple, sweet gum, tulip (yellow poplar), magnolia, and hickory trees. Florida is home to more than half of the American tree species.
Generally speaking, the state’s vegetation varies by soil type. The flatwood lowland region is characterized by slash and longleaf pine, oak, sabal palm, and grass, while organic soils support saw grass, cypress, sabal palm, myrtle, willow, elderberry, and gum. Pines and oaks can be found in the limestone region, but the Kissimmee valley is primarily covered in grasses, saw palmettos, and sabal palms.
The southern regions of the limestone zone are characterized by cypress, bay, and gumbo-limbo species, a tall trees with a brown, brilliantly lacquered trunks. Longleaf pine, loblolly pine, and hardwoods can all grow in upland soils in the north. The soils of the northern slopes and central uplands support a variety of slash and longleaf pine, oak, and saw palmetto, while the Ocala National Forest in the state’s north-central region is home to lush, damp mangrove swamps as well as tropical hardwoods, sand pine, and oak.
A large and diverse population of animals calls Florida’s diverse tropical and subtropical settings home; the rarer species, including the crocodile, manatee (also known as a sea cow), and puma (also called locally as the Florida panther [Puma concolor coryi]), are protected. The state is home to about 100 different kinds of mammals, including deer, pumas, bobcats, bears, black bears, armadillos, otters, mink, and gray foxes. There are also many smaller creatures. Manatees can be found in warm inland waters and along the coast, and numerous kinds of porpoises and dolphins give the clear coastal waters its unique characteristics.
Although that number rises each year as new birds migrate and are discovered, there are currently more over 400 species and subspecies of birds known to science. Land birds include the majority of smaller birds found in the southeastern states as well as turkeys, quail, doves, eagles, hawks, and owls; there are also many of gulls, brown pelicans, sandpipers, ospreys, and cormorants among the water species. Gallinules, ducks, geese, coots, egrets, herons, and ibises are just a few of the unique bird species found in freshwater and marshy areas. The Everglades and other places have sizable natural rookeries, and many wildlife refuges are kept up to protect migrating birds and other creatures.
The alligator is the king of Florida’s reptiles, and the ecology of the southern half of the state depends on it creating water holes. In the Everglades National Park, there are still several related crocodiles, an endangered species. The state is home to more than 40 different kinds of snakes, including the coral snake, rattlesnake, water moccasin (cottonmouth), and copperhead, which are the four deadly snakes in the nation (the latter inhabits limited areas of northern Florida). There are also many of frogs, lizards, turtles, and tortoises.
Numerous hundred species of fish and shellfish can be found in Florida’s 6,250 square miles (16,185 square km) of water, of which 4,375 square miles (11,330 square km) are on land. Bluefish, pompano, flounder, mackerel, mullet, trout, redfish, snappepers, groupers, snook, sailfish, tarpon, shad, weakfish, bonefish, marlins, and sharks are examples of common saltwater species. Among the most popular shellfish are shrimp, clams, oysters, stone and blue crabs, crawfish, and clams. The largest freshwater fish in the state is the largemouth black bass, along with bream (bluegill), sunfish, speckled perch, and catfish.
Residents of Florida
Native Americans, who were Florida’s original residents, today make up a very small percentage of the population. About 2,500 Seminole were residing on numerous reserves in the southern portion of the state at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the majority of them descendants of those who had successfully resisted the U.S. government’s forced relocation in the nineteenth century.
When the United States established an effective civil government in 1822, a sizeable community of people with European heritage (white people) started to emerge. Around the time of World War I, immigrants from northern Spain began to flock to Tampa, drawn mostly by the city’s developing cigar business and the chance to settle in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood. Following World War I, a considerable influx of Italians also arrived.
Greek immigrants started a sponge industry in Tarpon Springs in 1905, relying on the customs of their native country. Tarpon Springs was first populated around 1880. The state’s general population also benefits from the ethnic contributions of a sizable Jewish community in Miami-Miami Beach and a Slovak colony in Masaryktown. The majority of the state’s population now consists of white people of non-Hispanic backgrounds.
Although the exact date of the first African immigrants to Florida is unknown, it is believed that some of them traveled with the earliest Spanish expeditions. A few escaped slaves settled among the Seminoles, but it wasn’t until American rule that the black population started to rise. There were just as many black slaves in 1830 as there were white residents (about 11,000). The growth of the Southern plantation system, particularly in northern Florida, occurred at the same time that the black population increased.
Slavery in America was abolished during the American Civil War, but agricultural practices persisted. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that an infusion of new settlers caused the white population to grow more quickly than the black population. Less than one-fifth of the state’s population is black as of the early 21st century, but higher numbers can still be found in the former plantation belt in north-central Florida and the Everglades truck farming region.