Mangrove swamps, sometimes colloquially referred to as mangroves, derive their name from the tree species most dominant in such areas, the mangrove. These swamps exist in coastal regions and serve as important buffers between the ocean and the shoreline. The coasts of Florida provide a home for approximately 1042.5 square miles of mangrove swamps, as do regions in Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and beyond. Many species of trees and grass live in mangrove swamps.
Mangroves are large trees that live in saltwater swamps. They grow in water on aerial roots that hold the body of the tree above the water line while taking nutrients from silt and oxygen from the air. According to University of Florida professors Jorge R. Rey and C. Roxanne Rutledge, two categories of mangrove exist -- those indigenous to East Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Australia and the western Pacific and those indigenous to West Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas. The primary Floridian species are black mangrove (Avicennia germinans), white mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa) and red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle). Nearly 50 species of mangrove from a number of genera and families exist. Trees provide important habitats for animals including shrimp, manatees and monkeys.
Other Mangrove Swamp Trees
Mangrove trees dominate mangrove swamps, though other tree species grow in these areas. The coastal Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia) typically lives in the mangrove swamps of Australia, Malaysia and Oceania, though it also has been found in Florida, Puerto Rico and Hawaii. Trees reach a maximum mature height of 150 feet and live as long as 50 years. Another Australian tree species, melaleuca (Melaleuca quinquenervia), grows in mangrove swamps. These trees are invasive in the Florida everglades, where they compete with mangroves. Melaleuca trees reach mature heights of 80 feet.
Mangrove Swamp Grasses
A number of grass species grow in mangrove swamps. Species of mangrove swamp grass include widgeon grass (Ruppia maritime), manatee grass (Syringodium filiforme), turtle grass (Thalassia testudinium), shoal grass (Halodule beaudettei), paddle grass (Halophila decipiens), star grass (Halophila englemanni) and Johnson's sea grass (Halophila johnsonii). These species live almost exclusively submersed; they grow on the bed of the shallow sea around the roots of mangrove trees and rarely break the waterline. While most species resemble standard turf grass, turtle grass produces tiny flowers that bloom underwater.
Other Mangrove Swamp Life
Turtle weed (Batis maritime), also known as pickle weed, creates ground cover in solid ground areas in and around mangrove swamps. A number of species of red and green algae from many genera -- including Enteromorpha, Hypnea, Chaetoceros and Paralia -- live in mangrove swamps. Though technically not plants, many think of algae as such given their habitat and appearance. The small flowering plant white crownbeard (Verbesina virginica) grows in the mangrove swamps of the United States, as do Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) and annual seepweed (Suaeda linearis). Plant life in mangrove swamps varies from region to region.
- Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce: Mangroves
- University of Florida Wetland Extension: Mangrove Swamps
- University of Florida Extension; Mangroves; Jorge R. Rey and C. Roxanne Rutledge
- Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce: Casuarina Equisetifolia
- University of Florida Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants; Melaleuca Quinquenervia; 2011
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