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Florida Mangroves

Visiting our area you may notice a green stick-like thing about 9 inches long floating in the water of the bay and wonder what it is. It's a mangrove seedling that can float for months, unaffected by salt water, waves and a hot sun. If it reaches shallow, relatively quiet waters and if the sharp end points down and runs into land it will send roots down into the soil.

The Red Mangrove ( Rhizophora Mangle), grows
seaward with high arched prop roots extending out in tiers that turn downward from the trunk. It gives the illusion of trees on 'stilts'. The prop roots may send up new trunks wherever they touch ground. In the network of these roots soil and debris are trapped creating new land. Oysters attach themselves to these roots where they are covered during high tide. At night, raccoons raid these oyster beds. Fiddler crabs burrow in the mud beneath the roots. Birds that nest in the mangrove's branches then feed on them. Small baitfish feed on the algae attached to the roots. Later, larger gamefish like the redfish, snook and trout feed on the baitfish. Tarpon are known to frequent an area with mangroves looking for dinner. Fishermen know that an area with mangroves that borders on deeper water will yield a catch if they can cast close enough to the roots. Red mangroves will grow to a height of 30 feet over a 20 to 30 year period of time.

Behind this type of mangrove and at a slightly higher elevation, between the high and low tide marks, grow the Black Mangroves (Avicennia germinans) from the family Verbenaceae. They have underground roots that form a dense mat and send up thin, vertical roots from beneath the soggy ground. These "air roots", called pneumatophores, which may be a foot or so high, absorb oxygen from the air when the underground roots are covered. These taller black mangroves can grow to 70 feet. They have darker, denser foliage than the red mangrove, and form a nearly solid canopy.

White Mangroves ( Laguncularia Racemosa) and Button Mangroves ( Conocarpus Erectus), both from the family, Combretaceae, do not have aerial roots or root outgrowths. They grow at a higher elevation still and thrive in brackish water ( a mixture of salt and fresh waters).

Although our coastline does not have the wider, denser mangrove jungles like other areas of the world, the vast majority of it is covered by vegetation important to the "ecosystem". Because mangroves are susceptible to freezes, they grow better in central and southern Florida. They are a state protected plant like the sea oat. Recently, amid much controversy, the legislature has changed the laws regarding the trimming of mangroves. Waterfront owners can enjoy their views without removing this vital plant. A trimmed mangrove will grow thick and hardy just as other "hedges" will if care is taken. Mangroves help protect against erosion of our coastline during storm surge and lessen the impact on waterfront structures. Remember, a white sandy beach is beautiful but not if it is washed out to sea from a hurricane.

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