Spring Island is a rich amalgamation of habitats, thanks to its unique coastal topography and history of human use. With 19 different kinds of soils ranging from dry sandy ridges to wetlands, the island’s 3,000 acres are home to over 600 species of plants. Each habitat offers a different experience of nature which changes according to season, weather, and time of day. Colors and textures are never the same and return visits always yield new discoveries.
At the south end of the island, you’ll find species originating from an ancestral hardwood bottomland swamp that surrounded the island 13,000 years ago. Here, spruce pine, bluff oak and the spectacular mottled trillium occur along bluffs with soils rich in oyster shells discarded by Native Americans thousands of years ago. Other species, normally associated with Piedmont and mountain regions, are just a stone’s throw from the salt marsh.
THE LONGLEAF PINE HERE TELLS OF A PAST WHEN PERIODIC GROUND FIRES, CREATED BY LIGHTNING, ONCE SWEPT THROUGH THE UNDERGROWTH. TODAY, THE SPRING ISLAND TRUST IS WORKING TO RESTORE THIS DISAPPEARING HABITAT BY REPLANTING OLD FIELDS WITH YOUNG LONGLEAF PINE AND MAINTAINING A FIRST-RATE PRESCRIBED BURN PROGRAM. THIS BOTH PERPETUATES OUR DISTINCTIVE HABITAT AND HELPS PROTECT OUR HOMES FROM THE THREAT OF A FUTURE WILDFIRE.
“Biodiversity” is a term that describes the number of different species of plants, animals and fungi present. An area may have high biodiversity (many species) because it has a habitat that is rich in species, or it may have high biodiversity because it has many different habitats, each of which have their own unique species. Spring Island has high biodiversity for both reasons: some of its habitats are “species rich”, and Spring Island also has a much greater variety of habitats that other areas of similar size found in the outer coast of the eastern United States.
A goal of Spring Island’s management plan is to provide habitat for species that are disappearing elsewhere in the Southeast because of urban sprawl. This requires maintaining habitats typically incompatible with residential landscapes, such as fire maintained plant communities. It is in these disappearing habitats that rare species often occur. In some cases, especially with butterfly species, a management plan also involves making sure a specific host plant species is present.
Habitats do not exist in isolation. Typically, the highest number of species exists when there are many different habitats in the form of a mosaic across the landscape. When different habitats are found together they create a mosaic of different conditions for plants and animals. This “mosaic effect” is what makes Spring Island so important. Its great habitat diversity within its 3,000 acres makes it a modern day “ark” for many species of lowcountry plants and animals that tend to disappear when suburban sprawl takes over.
Managing the Nature Preserves
Spring Island has been described as “a great maritime forest.” Live oaks cast their shadows across the landscape and these imposing ancient trees along with over 80 other species of trees and shrubs thrive – more than three times the number found on neighboring barrier islands. Over 600 species of plants, over 200 species of vertabrates, 50 species of butterflies and 19 types of soil have also been identified on the island.
The day-to-day management of the over 1,300 acres of preserved land and its habitat is one of patience, precision and passion.
The Spring Island Trust team manages the Island’s vast maritime forest through a variety of techniques and best practices including prescribed fire, mowing to mitigate and manage fires, and timber harvests to improve the habitat quality of young pine forests and to re-establish a forest with large healthy trees and selective use of herbicides to kill non-native undesirable plants.
The number of agricultural fields in the Southeast has declined sharply during the last several decades. Several species of birds that were plentiful when agriculture was dominant have declined precipitously as former fields convert to forests or become part of new suburbs. The bobwhite quail, for example, has all but disappeared from its former range.
Spring Island’s fields help to perpetuate the Island’s original sense of place. The mosaic of cultivated and fallow fields helps preserve the rural character and provides a reminder that Spring Island was once a working plantation.
The wetlands on and surrounding the Island are an important part of the ecosystem. They are productive breeding grounds for a wide range of indigenous species.
Their habitats and the ditches and dikes that manage their water flow are an important part of the preservation philosophy of the Island.
Spring Island has dozens of ponds scattered across its landscape. The salt marsh inlets and ravines around the Island’s periphery were impounded in the late 1960s and early 1970s to attract waterfowl for hunting. Most of the interior ponds were created in the 1990s as water features for the golf course or as home and recreation amenities. With the exception of the Great Salt Pond and the wetlands within the Trust’s nature preserves, the ponds are owned by the POA.
Spring Island’s ponds are managed according to their intended uses (family fishing or saltwater fishing, for example). Some ponds provide multiple benefits. For example, Otter Pond is managed for fishing and wildlife by maintaining a water depth of several feet while one section is shallow for wading birds.
40 Mobley Oaks Lane
Okatie, SC 29909