Mostly all Florida estuaries have one thing in common, and that is Mangroves! There are over 400,000 acres of mangrove forests that map along the coastal areas of Florida.
Mangroves are an important plant species that hundreds, if not thousands of marine life depend upon for survival. It is not only a keystone species considered a mangrove food web, but it also provides a habitat for migrating birds.
Mangroves may be the only plant species that has been able to evolve throughout time due to its ability to thrive in muddy, salty conditions and locations such as estuaries. They have survived due to their incredible adaptations.
Adaptation: a change or the process of changing by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.
Their main reason for survival is because of their impressive root systems. Each mangrove species (red, black, and white) have a specific root system that benefits their growth, health, and continuation of their ability to reproduce. Because of where the mangroves grow, in brackish waters that contain a mixture of fresh and saltwater, their root systems consist of a filtration. This filtration keeps a significant amount of salt from entering the root system that may cause detrimental effects to the tree itself. Although the black mangrove root systems are less than more underwater (tidal zones), their root system is completely different and they are able to secrete salt through their leaves.
There are three types of mangroves in Florida: Red Mangrove, Black Mangrove, and White Mangrove. How do you tell them apart? Well, there are a couple of ways.
Like many plant species, mangroves also flower and produce seeds. Each one has a unique shape. The red mangrove has a long green bean shape seedling, the black mangrove has a smoothed curved tip lima bean shape seed, and the white mangrove seeds have grooved lines.
The leaves are different, as well. Red mangrove leaves are shaped oblong with a semi-pointed tip, black are similar in shape from the red mangroves, but the back of the black mangrove leaves are of a lighter color of green. The white mangroves are wide oblong-shaped as well but with a more rounded tip.
The red mangrove flowers all year long, but more dominate during the spring and summer. What’s so super cool about the red mangrove is its way of producing a new mangrove.
The red mangrove flowers are unique. They are a four-petal fuzzy wonder of nature that goes through an amazing process in creating a new mangrove. As the flower produces a fruit, the seed begins to germinate while still attached to the fruit. This part of the red mangrove, a seedling if you will, is known as a propagule. It will eventually detach itself after 40 days and fall into the waters waiting for it’s time to root in the muddy sediment, which may take up to 15 days.
The black mangrove and the white mangrove have pretty white flowers that bloom in the spring and towards the end of the summer season. Once the seeds fall they will take root within 5-7 days. photo by Alice Mary Herden
There are many YouTube videos that can help explain the process more in depth, and the videos I recommend are in the links section.
Mangroves are awesome and I have come to find a new respect for them. There is one place in Palm Harbor that has all three mangrove trees conveniently in one sweet spot! If you do have some time, visit Wall Springs Park. I think it’s a great place for an ‘up close’ opportunity to learn about Florida’s mangroves, especially for those who cannot view mangroves by kayak or boat.
Please remember, because most of us are beginning to learn about Florida’s awesome habitats and because we are not in that environment 5 days a week, it’s not easy learning. It took me four trips to Palm Harbor that I was able to id them just by the seed. Take your time, and learn the way that is easiest for you. If you get frustrated you may lose that interest and that is not what we want to do. I can tell you, being there to see and feel each one of these mangrove trees did help me learn but it also opened many doors to explore!
Mangroves are a protected species in Florida and without them, most of Florida’s coastal areas may not exist.
Enjoy and stay safe!
Links to explore:
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