Much like the cacti, succulents are often associated with deserts and are also quite diverse in tropical and subtropical areas. This includes the Everglades. Native succulents to the Everglades thrive with abundant rainfall but require a sunny well-drained site as they can only handle wet conditions for a short period of time. They too are tolerant of sandy, alkaline soils and are well adapted to the rocky locations that are common in the Everglades.
Along the south Florida coast, you will find Agave succulents in coastal habitats such as beach dunes and shell mounts and much like the cacti is endemic. It’s easy to recognize in the field with its striking bright green color and spiny leaf margins. Agave genus has long been used by humans and includes many species. Intoxicating drinks such as tequila, mescal as well as others are derived from Agave. Sisal hemp is a very important source of fibers used in making rope and clothing. Genetic information suggests that it may have been introduced from Latin America. Perhaps brought her by one of the early inhabitants of the coastal Everglades from the Yucatan.
Several native plant species in the Everglades spend all or most of their life without ever touching the soil. Since these plants grown on top of another plant, they have characteristics for dealing with dry conditions similar to desert and seashore plants. Take the worm-vine vanilla for an example, it has just a few tiny leaves, but it’s thick succulent stems are capable of photosynthesis and storing water. When conditions are harsh, they take on an orange hue. More than likely this is due to the pigments produced to reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the inside of their cells. Their beautiful flowers appear mid-summer. Since this species occurs in coastal forest, you will only see a few hardy souls flower in the wild.
Another succulent known as the shoreline sea-purslane is a sprawling perennial herb that grows in coastal areas through much of the world. The shoreline sea-purslane in Everglades National Park is typically found growing in coastal prairie and on beach dunes. They grow on the ocean’s side of the dunes down to the high tide mark. Fleshy leaves are borne on the succulent with reddish-green stems that branch regularly forming dense stands close to the ground. A plant will grow up to 12 inches high with stems growing as long as 3.3 feet. Throughout the year they will have small, showy pink flowers. Unfortunately, the flowers only open for a few hours a day. The shoreline sea-purslane helps to stabilize sand dunes by catching sand grains within its roots, stems, and leaves, helping to prevent beach erosion.