THE FLORIDA PENINSULA 18. How Florida appears.—If you should ride through Florida by train or automobile, you would see many lakes and many swamps, with cypress trees standing in them (Fig. 22), and big oak trees with silvery moss hanging from the branches. You would also see miles of sandy soil, and miles and miles of pine forests. In a settlement here and there, dozens or hundreds of farmers would be busy with their orchards of orange and grape fruit trees (Fig. 25), their fields of celery (Fig. 23), beans, tomatoes, and other early vege tables, and their fields of corn. 19. Climate.—Florida is so far south that the climate is warm, even in winter. The people rarely heat their houses. In the southern part there are some winters when no frost comes. In the central part of the state there are sometimes two or three frosts in winter, but they are often weeks apart, and the whole country is as green in January as the northern states are in July. The palm trees (Fig. 20) make parts of Florida look like South America and Cuba. Big black alligators sun themselves beside the rivers.
20. Warm waters.—There is an ocean current which flows into the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean Sea, on out through the Florida Strait, and then northerly between Florida and the Bahama Islands (Fig. 327). Why does Florida have a warm, moist climate? Which of the four winds can be cool and dry in Florida? Florida has so much rain in the autumn that it beats the cotton off of the cotton plant. For this reason cotton is not grown in the peninsula, and the region cannot be included in the Cotton Belt.
21. How Florida was made.—The Florida Peninsula is one of the flattest parts of the United States. How long is it? (Fig. 26.) How wide? It is reallya long, flat sand-bank, rising from the sea a foot or two to the mile. Not long ago, as time goes with nature, Florida was sea bottom. That is why so much of the soil is sand. While Florida was still under the sea, little animals called corals lived on it. Their skeletons made much of the limestone that is now to be found there. Many layers of seashells were left there by the shellfish that live on the sea bottom.
These shells are now layers of soft limestone near the surface of the sand. Most limestone is made from seashells and coral. Some of this Florida limestone is made of coarse pieces of seashell cemented together by lime very much as sugar cements a popcorn ball.
22. Limestone sinks, lakes, and springs.— Florida has much rain but few rivers. The rain, sinking through the sand, soaks out holes or caves in the limestone, which dis solves in water more easily than any other stone. (Figs. 19, 20.) The water, after sinking into these holes or caves, runs away under ground and may come up as springs, one of which, called Crystal Spring, is so large that a small steamboat floats on it. When the roof of one of these underground passages falls in, the hole is called a limestone sink, and it may become a pond or small lake. Florida has hundreds of such lakes.
23. A railroad over the of the tip of Florida there is a long chain of coral islands, the Florida Keys, with Key West, the only town in the United States where no frost has been recorded. (Fig. 308.) A railroad 117 miles long runs on concrete bridges from island to island all the way from the mainland to Key West. From there it is only 93 miles by boat to Havana.
Some of the people who live in Key West and at Tampa hunt in the neighboring waters for sponges. Standing in their boats they pull sponges from the rocky bottom with long poles. Sometimes they dive for them. An ordinary sponge, such as we see, is made of the soft skeletons of thousands of tiny sea animals that live together in one cluster.
24. Swamps and soil.—Florida is so flat that in many places the water cannot flow away; it stays and makes a swamp. In the southern part of Florida are the Everglades, the largest swamp in the United States. In periods of heavy rain, the water in this swamp rises several feet. In periods of drought much of it flows away slowly through the tall grass. Men are now at work draining parts of this and other Florida swamps tp make farms. The swamp land is usually rich, because of the plants that have grown in the swamp and decayed there.