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Baygall - (synonyms: seepage swamp, bayhead, bay swamp).

Baygalls are generally characterized as densely forested, peat-filled seepage depressions often at the base of sandy slopes. The canopy is composed of tall, densely packed, generally straight-boled evergreen hardwoods dominated by sweetbay, swamp red bay, and loblolly bay. A more or less open understory of shrubs and ferns commonly occurs, while sphagnum mats are often interlaced with the convoluted tree roots. Other typical plants include dahoon holly, Atlantic white cedar, fetterbush, male-berry, myrtle-leaved holly, large gallberry, wax myrtle, odorless wax myrtle, hurrah-bush, dog-hobble, white alder, possumhaw, red chokeberry, Virginia willow, laurel greenbrier, poison ivy, cinnamon fern, chain fern, wild grape, netted chain fern, sweetgum, cypress, lizard's tail, and needle palm. Typical animals include mole salamander, southern dusky salamander, southern mud salamander, opossum, southeastern shrew, short-tailed shrew, marsh rabbit, black bear, raccoon, southern mink, and bobcat.

Baygalls typically develop at the base of a slope where seepage usually maintains a saturated peat substrate. They may also be located at the edges of floodplains or in other flat areas where high lowland water tables help maintain soil moisture. Baygall soils are generally composed of peat with an acidic pH (3.5 - 4.5).

Since Baygalls rarely dry out enough to burn, the normal fire interval in these
communities is probably 50-100 years or more. After a fire, bay trees usually resprout from the roots and replace themselves, but severe fires may change a Baygall into a different community. If only a small amount of surface peat is removed, a Baygall may be replaced by a Wet Flatwoods community. If the ground surface is lowered considerably, willows may invade, followed by a cypress-gum community. With recurrent fire, the site will become a shrub bog. If the subsurface peat does not burn and fire and hydrological regimes are undisturbed, a burned out bay forest may be replaced by a stand of white cedar.

Baygall is often associated with and may grade into Seepage Slope, Floodplain Forest or Floodplain Swamp. The species composition of Baygalls frequently overlaps with Bog, Dome Swamp, Basin Swamp, Strand Swamp, Bottomland Forest, Wet Flatwoods, and Hydric Hammock.

Baygalls are dependent upon seepage flow and a high water table. Alterations in the
local or regional hydrology could impact Baygall communities. They may also need fire
protection during droughts, especially if water tables are lowered. Baygalls are vulnerable to logging, peat mining, and conversion to agricultural land. When drained, the peat soils are valued for farming, although they then begin to oxidize and disappear. The renewed interest in mining peat as fuel may place greater pressure on these wetlands.

  • Source: Florida Natural Areas Inventory and Florida Dept. of Natural Resources. 1990. Guide to the natural communities of Florida. Florida Natural Areas Inventory and Florida Dept. of Natural Resources, Tallahassee, FL. iv, 111 p.

Copyright 2000-2009, Ordway-Swisher Biological Station
Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation, University of Florida
 Gainesville, FL 32611