Tree Tips: The magnificent mangroves – Earth’s underrated ecosystem

The magnificent mangroves – Earth’s underrated ecosystem

Mangrove forests grow world-wide in the subtropics and tropics and are very important to the overall health of the world’s environment.  Unfortunately, like many other biological systems, they are facing a loss crisis from climate change, industrial overdevelopment and increasing aquaculture and are not recognized by many as a major environmental problem.  Mangroves as such are not a specific botanical group of species, but have more of a certain geographic and ecological community relationship of plants growing in a certain environmental zone.  Mangroves are tropical plants or shrubs growing in intertidal coastal zones worldwide. There are over 70 species of mangrove trees worldwide, but only three main species growing in Florida – red, black, and white, each of whom grow at different heights above the low tide water level.

Red Mangroves – This is the species that is commonly seen and recognizable along coastal waterways.  It grows in low tidal, high-salinity water closest to the coastal edge.  It is easily recognizable by its stilt or prop roots (usually red) that grow in broad arches from branches or the trunk down to the water or soil below the tree.  These root systems form an impenetrable mass that supports the tree from tides, currents, etc. as well providing a safe haven from predators for small fish, shrimp, and other small water animals.  The roots also provide stability as the tree grows in loose mud and, more importantly, it helps the tree gather oxygen from the air.

Black Mangroves – These grow at a higher elevation than Red Mangroves, but do not grow in water, but in muddy, oxygen-depleted soil.  To obtain oxygen, the Black Mangrove roots will shoot up pencil-like growths (called pneumatophores) above the muddy soil.  These pneumatophores are a key recognizable part of the Black Mangroves.

White Mangrove – These trees usually grow at a little higher elevation than the Red and Black Mangroves and on drier land (but sometimes both or all three can be found together).  These have no aerial or breathing root systems.  The White Mangrove is moist identifiable by it longer, elliptical, green-yellowish leaves.  These trees get rid of salt in their systems through leaves.

All things taken into consideration, why are mangroves so important to the environment?  For one, mangrove forests store more carbon than terrestrial forests.  Mangroves can store as much as 10 times the carbon as a comparable sized terrestrial forest, which makes an important component in the fight against air pollution.  Mangroves also help control coral bleaching or killing coral beds, one of the most devastating effects of climate change in oceans.  A third benefit of mangrove forests is providing a coastal buffer zone from tidal, wave, and current erosion of beaches and shorelines.  Also, mangroves provide protection from high winds and storm surges of severe storms and hurricanes.  Also, very importantly, mangroves provide a nursery and sanctuary for small fish, shrimps, crab, small birds, and other wildlife that would be able to find a comparable environment for reproduction, feeding, and safety from predators.

Even though we do not have a mangrove coastal ecosystem on Lake Erie, we need to be aware of its important role in protecting the global environment.

If you have questions or concerns, feel free to contact the Vermilion Tree Commission by contacting Anne Maiden at the Mayor’s Office at or at 440-204-2402.  You are also cordially invited to attend our monthly Tree Commission meeting which is on the second Wednesday of the month. The Tree Commission will meet at the Ritter Public Library on Wednesday, April 12.


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