Enviornmental Images and Florida's Incipient Sugar Industry


  • Sam Sheldon


Sugar cane has long been a staple of Florida's agricultural landscape. Introduced to Florida shortly after the founding of St. Augustine, the sucrose yielding grass became commercially significant during the nineteenth century and currently ranks as the leading commodity in dollar value of farm sales among the state's field crops (Fernald 1981, p. 153). Florida's contemporary cane growing region is located on lands bordering Lake Okeechobee. This area of rich, organic soils has remained the focus of the state's sugar industry throughout most of the present century, but earlier sugar enterprises flourished along both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts and in central Florida. Economic and political forces are preeminent in explaining the peripatetic nature of Florida's cane industry, but spatial instability has also been engendered by disparities between the perceptions and realities of the state's sugar growing potential. Landscapes believed to be amenable to cane cultivation often proved wholly inappropriate, and sugar production subsequently relocated to more "ideal" locales. This article examines the role of environmental perception in fostering a sugar industry in northeastern Florida during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Contemporary materials are used to convey the positive impressions of the region which were held by residents and writers, impressions that encouraged cane cultivation in a physical milieu ill-suited to the crop.