A mangrove can refer to two different things: a tidal swamp ecosystem found in tropical areas or the tree itself that makes these ecosystems. Mangrove forests are found in the topics or the subtropics and are mainly found in the Indo West Pacific, the Atlantic East Pacific, and coastlines of Mexico and Central America. The intricate root system along with the coverage that the branches of the trees make, a mangrove forest provides shelter to hundreds of both land and water organisms. Residents of mangrove forests include and are not limited to saltwater crocodiles, pelicans, egrets, flying foxes and monkeys, along with many types of fish, insects, reptiles, and birds. Additionally, mangroves protect populated areas of coastline from erosion and extreme weather events such as hurricanes.
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Red mangroves grow at sea level along shorelines and are native to Florida, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. The red mangrove is easily distinguishable due to its tangled, reddish root system that grows out of the water. The roots extend from the trunk then grow downward on an average of 3 feet before entering the water. In perfect conditions, the red mangrove can grow up to 80 feet. However, in more human-populated areas the red mangrove averages at 2 feet in height.
Red mangroves. Photo © Cathleen Bester / Florida Museum
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The black mangrove is characterized by straight horizontal roots systems and straight vertical root projections called pneumatophores. The pneumatophores come from the underground horizontal root systems and project out from the soil and/or sand. In perfect conditions, the black mangrove can grow up to 65 feet, however, in more human-populated areas it is more common for the tree to grow at the tallest 50 feet.
Black mangroves. Photo © Cathleen Bester / Florida Museum
Black mangrove, Science Source
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Unlike the red and black mangrove, the white mangrove lives higher on land and has no visible aerial roots. The white mangrove has light yellow-green leaves that are broad and flat. They also produce greenish-white flowers in spring to early summer. White mangroves also have unique glands called extra-floral nectaries that are found on either side of the stem at the leaf base. These structures excrete sugars which may attract ants that protect the plant from herbivorous insects
Above: The white mangrove, Photo L. Holly Sweat, Smithsonian Marine Station at For Pierce
Above: Extra-floral nectaries of L. racemose. Photo L. Holly Sweat, Smithsonian Marine Station at For Pierce
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