Mangrove trees are a specialized type of tropical tree that grows partially submerged, often in saltwater marshes. Mangrove trees are the only species that can tolerate the high salinity of oceans and seas. So they must love water, but where are some of the most common places to find mangrove trees?
Mangrove trees and shrubs grow along tropical and subtropical estuaries, rivers, and shores. Most grow in muddy, waterlogged soil, but some can grow in sand, peat, and places too harsh for other tree species. Mangroves live in the water nearly 100 times more saline than other plants can tolerate.
Mangrove trees are found across the globe, so let’s take a deeper look into some of the most common places mangrove trees can be found!
Mangrove Trees In America
Mangrove trees can be found in tropical and subtropical climates near the equator. They can tolerate and thrive in some of the saltiest water, and are one of the few types of trees that can grow near salt water, but they can’t stand the cold.
There are a few places in the US where mangroves grow naturally, while some places had mangrove trees artificially introduced. They can survive in USDA growth zones from 9-12. These places are very hot, don’t have cold snaps very often, and are typically coastal areas.
Florida Mangrove Trees
Along the southern edges of the coast of Florida, you might run into up to three different species of mangrove trees. The red mangrove grows along the coastal edge and is recognized by its finger-like roots reaching into tidal areas. These roots stretch down into the water to help stabilize the tree.
Black and white mangroves live further inland respectively. These trees still love salty, marshy areas, but they can’t stand being submerged as much as their red mangrove cousins. White mangroves grow in higher elevations, farther back from the shore, and do not have exposed roots like black and red mangrove trees.
1. Red Mangroves
Red mangrove trees are the ones you are most likely to recognize because of the roots that intertwine in the salty waters. They anchor their roots in soft, muddy waters where they spread out like stilts, keeping the trunks straight and out of the reach of tidal waters.
You will find red mangrove trees along the Atlantic coast of Florida and around the Gulf of Mexico.
Red mangroves can live in such salty, nutrient-lacking environments because of specialized adaptations to deal with moisture sapping saltwater. These trees can block out up to 90% of the salt from entering the roots. If it wasn’t for this ability, the salt water would dry out the tree and it couldn’t survive. Talk about adaptability!
The roots of these trees also have specialized pores called lenticels which can let oxygen inside while blocking water when the tide comes in. The roots and trunks of trees need oxygen to survive, but they are unable to get the gas when they are completely submerged. When the tide goes out, and the lenticels are exposed, the tree can “breathe,” it then stores oxygen in small cavities until it is needed.
2. Black Mangroves
Black mangrove trees are identified by pencil-like roots that stick up from the ground around the tree. These roots are called pneumatophores and allow the tree to obtain oxygen from the air. Often, the soil black mangrove trees live in is saturated with salt water.
These trees don’t usually live directly in the water like red mangrove species, but they still live close enough where high tides can saturate the ground around them. If their pneumatophores are covered with silt, or submerged too long, they won’t survive.
The leaves on black mangrove trees use excretion to remove the salt from the water they absorb. Often the leaves will have crystallized salt covering them.
Black mangrove trees are the most tolerant of cooler temperatures of the three species found in Florida. They can be found the farthest north in the state, but like all mangrove species, they still can’t tolerate freezing temperatures for long.
3. White Mangroves
White mangrove trees live in higher elevations than the previous two. For this reason, the white mangrove does not have surface roots like the red and black mangrove varieties. These trees are still prized for their ability to help stop erosion and provide a natural buffer from storms and water surges.
Just below the base of the leaves, there are two pores called petioles which excrete excess salt buildup.
Like other mangrove trees, this tree’s seeds germinate while still hanging on the branch. They have to grow fast in the harsh climate so a root will start sprouting while on the tree. How cool is that? Once the seed falls, it already has a head start and doesn’t take long to become established.
Louisiana Mangrove Trees
Along the coastal regions of Louisiana, black mangroves have been growing at a steady pace. These trees are the coldest tolerant of the mangroves and can stand the quick cold snaps of the state.
There are areas along the southern border of Louisiana that used to have plenty of bald cypress trees growing in the marshes, but over the years the salinity has been increasing. This increase in saltwater has made the environment too saline for the cypress to stand in, so black mangroves have started to move in.
In fact, since 1990, black mangroves have been increasing along the coast of Louisiana because there are no other trees that can withstand such a salty environment.
Texas Mangrove Trees
In Texas, along the mouth of the Rio Grande through Laguna Madre, and other salty, sandy, tidal areas, you will find black mangrove trees. These trees can grow up to 60 feet tall and the temperature stays hot all the time.
Even along the Gulf of Mexico, the temperatures in Texas can dip down to freezing. Because of the occasional cold spell, the black mangrove trees in Texas are often little more than shrubs. The cold often freezes the new, top growth of black mangroves which stunts the trees. They rarely grow taller than 3 feet.
Hawaiian Mangrove Trees
According to the USDA, there were no species of mangrove trees growing in Hawaii before the early 1900s. In 1902 the red mangrove was introduced to the island chain to help stabilize some of the coastal mudflats.
No one counted on how quickly these trees could establish themselves and expand. Now the red mangrove is considered an invasive species in Hawaii. These fast-growing trees have reduced the habitat for endangered waterfowl such as the Hawaiian Stilt, started overgrowing archaeological sites, and caused drainage and aesthetic problems.
Mangrove Trees Around The World
Now, let’s take a quick look where mangrove trees grow in the rest of the world.
India: Home Of The Largest Mangrove Forest In The World
In India, the Sundarbans Forest Reserve is the largest mangrove forest in the world. It encompasses some 140,000 hectares along the Bay of Bengal. This huge mangrove forest is home to many endangered species such as the Royal Bengal Tiger.
In this hot, jungle-like climate, mangrove trees grow in great abundance. These trees are critical for this environment and the creatures that call the Sundarbans Forest Reserve home. There are innumerable species of fish, crustaceans, birds, and mammals that depend on mangrove trees. Thank goodness for those mangroves!
Mangrove Trees In Indonesia
The country of Indonesia consists of 17,000 tropical islands and has the largest amount of mangrove forest cover of all other countries. Indonesia alone contains 23% of the world’s mangrove forests and includes the richest concentrations of different mangrove species.
Unfortunately, this area is also being deforested at an alarming rate. These mangrove forests are being cleared out for shrimp and fish farming ponds as well as for palm oil plantations. Palm oil production has removed tens of millions of acres of mangrove forest for palm oil that is used in a multitude of products.
Some may say that removing trees and planting more trees isn’t that bad, but mangrove trees are special in that one acre of mangroves removes more carbon dioxide from the environment than an acre of rainforest. Mangrove trees are being removed from the environment faster than rainforest deforestation.
Mangrove Forests In Brazil
In Brazil, the Bahia mangrove forest covers the majority of the country’s coastal region. This tropical rainforest gets over 55 inches of rain per year. The excessive rainfall does not stop the red mangrove trees from flourishing here.
This area covers over 800 square miles of dense mangrove forest land. It is not continuously forested but is broken up by various river estuaries. These areas are not easily accessible and are not studied much, but they are also threatened as human populations continue to spread toward the coast, especially in the northeastern areas. Mangroves need their space, just like us!
These mangroves, like all mangrove forests, play a critical role in fish nurseries and places for mollusks, crabs, and shrimps to live. They also provide places for many waterfowl species such as the great egret, snowy egret, and many migratory species to nest and feed.
There have also been sightings of five different species of sea turtles swimming among the mangrove roots. These species include the loggerhead sea turtle, olive ridley, leatherback, hawkbill, and green sea turtles. All of these sea turtles are considered endangered.
Mangrove Trees In Nigeria
Nigeria has the largest mangrove forest in Africa. This forest alone stands for over 50% of mangrove forests in West Africa. Nigeria is also the largest mangrove ecosystem in all of Africa.
60% of local people depend on these mangroves for survival. The mangrove trees offer therapeutic and medicinal remedies, cultural traditions, spiritual significance, as well as food and sources of income for locals.
Many of the people living in these areas fish for themselves and sell their catch to make ends meet. In a healthy mangrove ecosystem, a single hectare of space can support 1.08 tons of fish yearly.
Local Nigerians harvest mangrove wood for household and domestic use as well. Some of the uses of mangrove wood include cooking, and smoking foods, housing material, fishing stakes, scaffolding, and much more.
As you can see, mangrove forests are not only essential for the wide array of animals living on, around, and among the trees, but they are essential for the livelihood of residents as well.
Australian Mangrove Trees
Australia contains the third largest area of mangrove forests in the world after Brazil and Indonesia. There are 41 different mangrove species found around Australia and approximately 6.4% of the world’s total mangrove area. These appear in nearly all the states of Australia except for Tasmania.
The most common mangrove tree in Australia is the higher elevation loving white mangrove. There are about 80 different species of mangroves in the world, and Australia contains half of all the species. Australia also has a species that grows nowhere else in the world; the Avicennia Integra, or what the locals call an api api tree.
Indigenous Australians have traditionally used mangrove forests for sources of food and timber. They would fish for clams, barramundi fish, and crabs. They would also gather mangrove fruit for food. The timber from mangrove trees used to be used for canoes, paddles, shields, and spears as well as boomerangs.
Commercial Uses of Mangrove Trees
When mangrove trees are grown as a renewable resource the commercial uses are quite impressive. Nearly every part of the tree can be used for something. Tannins from mangrove tree bark, especially the black mangrove, are used for leather tanning and dyes. The timber is used in construction, and even the leaves have medicinal qualities.
The wood of many species of mangrove trees produces hot burning charcoal, and the timber can be used in building houses, boats, and furniture.
The wood is also naturally termite resistant, very hard, and resistant to water and rot, making it a great wood for boats and canoes. In Malaysia, pneumatophores are even used in basket weaving, as well as fishing corks and floats.
Some cultures used the leaves of mangroves for medicinal purposes. Other cultures would use mangrove leaves as an alternative to tobacco, tea, and feed for livestock.
Don’t go out and start snacking on mangrove tree leaves whenever you come across them though. There are many different species of mangrove trees, some of which contain leaves that are not edible!
Some species of mangrove trees flower year-round, which is great for beekeepers because they have a constant supply of food for their bees. Florida is one area that is starting to utilize mangroves for honey production. If you are a honey lover who enjoys trying all the different types of honey, try out this Raw Mangrove Honey from Florida!
Wrapping It Up
As you see, mangrove trees can be found all over the place in tropical zones where the land meets the sea. The largest and most common areas for mangrove forests are Indonesia, India, Brazil, Australia, Nigeria, and even the southern states of the United States that border the Gulf of Mexico.
Mangrove forests are extremely important to the global environment, animals that call these forests home, and humans.
If you want to grow your own mangrove trees you certainly can. They grow well in zones 9-12, and also make great potted, or pond plants. They just don’t tolerate cold temperatures!
If growing mangrove trees sounds like a good time, here are some Red Mangrove Seedlings to get you started. Best of luck!
Ball, M. C. (1980). Patterns of secondary succession in a mangrove forest of southern Florida. Oecologia, 44(2), 226-235.
Hutchison, J., Manica, A., Swetnam, R., Balmford, A., & Spalding, M. (2014). Predicting global patterns in mangrove forest biomass. Conserv. Lett. 7, 233–240.
Michot, T. C., Day, R. H., & Wells, C. J. (2010). Increase in black mangrove abundance in coastal Louisiana. Louisiana Natural Resources News, 4-5.
Schaeffer-Novelli, Y., Cintrón-Molero, G., Soares, M. L. G., & De-Rosa, T. (2000). Brazilian mangroves. Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management, 3(4), 561-570.
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