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Mangroves: Definition, Types & Facts

Instructor: Stephanie Matalone

Stephanie taught high school science and math and has a Master's Degree in Secondary Education.

What's a mangrove tree? Learn what a mangrove is and where it is found, as well as some basic information about the main types of mangroves, highlighting the differences between these types.

What Are Those Odd Trees?

If you've ever spent some time near the beach in Florida, you've probably noticed those funny looking trees with their branches poking into the water. They are pretty odd looking plants with some pretty unique features!

Mangroves are trees found in coastal areas near the equator that can easily adapt to live in harsh conditions. They can survive in both saltwater and fresh water conditions, unlike most other species. In the United States, they are found mostly in Florida, but around the world they can be found in Mexico, Central America, South Africa, northern South America, and Southeast Asia. They are always found near the ocean, never in the center of the continent.

Adaptations

Mangroves can live where others would never make it! They can do this with some pretty unique adaptations.

Normally, too much saltwater would kill a plant, just like a human who drinks it. But, mangroves have adapted a unique filtration system to remove most of the salt from the water it takes in. They can also save water in their leaves like desert plants to use later on. Even further, some mangroves have special roots that stick up out of the water to help with gas exchange.

Because mangroves have to deal with the tides and waves, it is important that they get anchored into the sediment so they don't get pushed around. Because of this, they are very important land stabilizers. Their extensive root systems also provide habitats for many different animal species.

Unfortunately, mangroves are being removed at alarming rates worldwide for new houses, buildings, golf courses, farming, timber, etc. Many countries are starting to realize the important of mangroves and have put strict laws in place to protect them.

There are over 50 different species of mangroves found around the world, but only four are found in the United States: red, black, white, and buttonwood.

Red Mangroves

If you have seen a mangrove with its roots sticking into the ocean water, you were probably looking at a red mangrove or Rhizophora mangle, named for their red tinted roots. These are the most well-known mangroves because they are the most easily seen.

red

At the top, red mangroves look like a typical tree with green leaves and a trunk, but when you look further down, you will see some roots branching off the trunk that reach into the water. These are called prop roots and and help keep the plant stable. They also provide oxygen for the rest of the plant.

These roots have frequent branching and end up looking like a jumbled mess. This is one of the species that is heavily monitored in the United States because those messy roots help prevent soil erosion.

Need help remembering this type, think... 'red, red... tiny head' in reference to the shape on the leaves!

Black Mangroves

If you travel a little further inland, you will come across the black mangrove or Avicennia germinans. These plants grow in very wet soil that is not heavily oxygenated which is why their roots grow straight up into the air. These roots are called pneumatophores and look like tiny snorkels that help with gas exchange.

A black mangrove
black mangrove

Try tasting the back of a black mangrove leaf and you will notice it tastes salty and often has a whitish tint. This is how black mangroves adapt to live in the saltwater, by releasing excess salt onto its leaves!

To remember this type, think... 'black, black... lick the back'.

White Mangroves

Even further inland, you will encounter the white mangrove or Laguncularia racemosa, which looks much more like your typical tree compared to the black and red mangroves. These mangroves like to live on more solid ground but they still get inundated with saltwater from time to time. They usually do not have funky roots like the others, but rather typical underground ones.

A white mangrove
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