Probably no geographical feature identifies
North America as easily as the peninsula of Florida. Florida
is divided into 67 counties. To the north and west, the “panhandle”
shares borders with Georgia and Alabama. The bottom two-thirds
of the state lies on the distinctive peninsula, surrounded
by water on three sides. Florida’s location near the
Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea
has made it a crossroads of European, North American, and
South American history.
When geographers study Florida, they
look at its physical conditions-land, water, plants, animals,
and climate. Just as important, though, is the study of human
geography: the study of people, who they are, where they live,
and how they live. Today, more than ever before, geographers
are also interested in how humans relate to and interact with
Florida ranks 22nd among the 50 states
in total area, with about 58,560 total square miles. Northern
Florida is cooler and hillier. Southern Florida is flatter and
warmer. All of Florida is rather low, with most of the land
less than 100 feet (30 meters) above sea level. Geologists—scientists
who study Earth’s history through rock formations—think
that Florida is one of the youngest parts of the continental
United States, the last landform to emerge from the ocean. The
Florida landscape is sprinkled with more than 7,000 lakes, and
Lake Okeechobee is the nation’s second largest freshwater
lake in the United States. Water is important to Florida, and
seawater, lakes, rivers, and streams have shaped the land into
The Coastal Lowlands
The coastal lowlands make up 75 percent of the state’s
land. These areas border the
sea. Most coastal lowlands are very low, less than 25 feet (7.6
meters) above sea level.
The Lake Okeechobee-Everglades Basin
This region is 150 miles long and 50 miles wide. Low and wet,
the basin is actually a slow-moving river, sometimes called
the “River of Grass.” The southern part of the basin
contains Everglades National Park and Lake Okeechobee.
The Kissimmee Lowlands
The Kissimmee Lowlands are about the same size as the Okeechobee-Everglades
Basin. These flat grasslands provide fine pasture along the
Kissimmee River as it flows south toward Lake Okeechobee.
The Marianna Lowlands
The area of the Marianna Lowlands is in the northwest between
the Choctawhatchee and Apalachicola Rivers. It is a region of
heavy erosion with many sinkholes and caves.
The Tallahassee Hills
The Tallahassee Hills lie east of the Marianna Lowlands. This
beautiful rolling area has been an important area for field
The Western Highlands
East of the Marianna Lowlands, extending to the Alabama border
are the Western Highlands. This area, like the Tallahassee Hills,
was once part of an ancient upland plain and is now an important
The Central Highlands
The Central Highlands lie east of the Tallahassee Hills and
west of the St. Johns River, which separate them from the Coastal
Lowlands farther east. This region, too, is rolling country
and has thousands of lakes.
Unique Features of Florida's Geography
Sinkholes are a common geographic phenomenon in Florida. Rainwater
filters through the porous limestone of Florida's aquifer beneath
the ground's surface. Persistent erosion over time can create
underground voids. The collapse of overlying ground into the
underground cavities produces sinkholes. Many Florida sinkholes
have been converted into lakes, hiking and biking trails, and
Florida has over 1,197 miles of coastline, with 663 miles containing
sandy beaches. No part of Florida is more than 60 miles (96
km) from its famous beaches. For most people, beaches and palm
trees are synonymous with Florida's landscape. Beach erosion
is a concern, and measures are underway to protect, preserve,
and restore the coastal sandy beach resources of the state.
Florida is the only state in the continental United States to
have extensive shallow coral reef formations near its coasts.
The most thriving reef developments are found by the Florida
Keys and rival those of many Caribbean areas.
Sunshine is one of Florida's most important resources. The state's
comfortable climate has lured vacationers for more than a century.
Other than Hawaii, Florida is closer to the Equator than any
other American state, giving it a humid subtropical climate.
Heavy rainfall occurs from April to November with hurricane
season from June to November. Snow falls occasionally in the
north, and valuable crops are sometimes subject to freeze warnings.
Plants and Animals
More than 300 species of trees grow
in Florida, including a wide variety of hardwoods and pines
in the north. In the south are tropical varieties, such as the
Sabal Palm, Florida's state tree. Although citrus trees are
not native to Florida, probably no other tree identifies Florida
as much as the orange tree. Many historians believe Christopher
Columbus first brought citrus fruits to the New World in 1493.
Early Spanish explorers planted orange trees around St. Augustine,
Florida, in the late 1500s. Florida's unique sandy soil and
subtropical climate have proven to be ideal for growing citrus.
In this changing environment live about 100 species of mammals,
from the endangered Florida panther to common deer, and more
than 400 species and subspecies of birds. Alligators are the
largest and most famous reptiles found here, and more than 40
species of snakes have been discovered. Animal life is under
pressure from growing cities and suburbs, but steps are in place
to protect threatened and endangered species. One example is
the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act, which declares the State
of Florida to be a refuge and sanctuary for the manatee, or