Mangrove Adaptations: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Mary Beth Burns

Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.

While mangrove trees might not seem like more than simple trees, they are actually very strong and resilient structures. Learn about some of the adaptations that make them so special in this lesson.

Mangrove Adaptions

Have you ever swam in the ocean? The water feels different than when you swim in a lake, and if you accidentally swallow ocean water or get it in your eyes, it's much more irritating. This is because ocean water is full of salt.

Like humans, plants can be irritated by salty water and many cannot survive in it. However, the mangrove, a tree that grows along the coasts of oceans, is able to withstand water that's 100 times saltier than most plants can handle. And they are able to so do because of certain adaptations they have developed over time.

A mangrove by the ocean
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Adaptions for Salt

Sodium and chloride are the two elements that make up salt. Unfortunately, these two elements can be toxic to plants. Since salt makes up around 90% of salt water, mangroves need a strategy to avoid these elements.

One strategy that some mangroves use is to filter salt out through their roots. This way, they only absorb the fresh water and use that to hydrate themselves. Another strategy is to absorb the salt in their bark, which they eventually shed. Other mangroves use the salt excretion strategy, which is when they use special glands in their leaves to store the salt. In fact, if you were to eat one of these leaves, it would taste salty.

Root Adaptations

Just like you, mangroves need to breathe. However, breathing works differently for mangroves. For one thing, mangroves need to be able to breathe in wet and spongy mud as well as water, so their root structures have adapted to do so. Mangroves have multiple sets of roots--the underground roots in addition to aerial (above-ground) roots that take in oxygen through tiny pores called lenticels.

Because mangroves are rooted in spongy surfaces instead of hard ground, their roots have adapted to be able to support them and keep them upright. One such adaptation is their high arch. A mangrove's roots are arched above the water, which provides additional support and stability. Also, mangrove roots are far and wide-spreading, providing a large base so that they do not waver against the waves. They kind of look like tentacles of an octopus, but bigger and fuller.

Look at the arch on those roots.
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