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Updated: 06/26/2014 08:00:07AM

Mangroves 101

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Red mangrove tree laden with nearly-ripe propagules. Note the iconic prop roots extending into the water beneath.

By Capt. Ralph Allen

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If you’ve spent much time on the waters of Charlotte Harbor you’ve benefited from the thousands of mangrove trees which fringe the estuary. For most of us the benefits are indirect: we don’t eat fruit from mangrove trees, or use lumber from mangrove trees to build boats or houses, or partake in any other consumptive uses. Some folks reportedly use mangrove wood when smoking fish and others use mangroves in their waterfront landscaping, but the rest of us profit in less obvious ways from the presence of these interesting trees. Mangrove shorelines serve as habitat for fish, birds and other wildlife, perform admirably in shoreline stabilization, provide protection against stormy conditions which would devastate bare coastal areas, and they’re just cool to explore.

Pretty much every foot of shoreline around Charlotte Harbor that hasn’t been seawalled is home to a dense growth of mangroves. Three species of mangroves grow here: red, white and black mangroves. It’s the red mangroves which are most visible because they are the most likely to thrive right at the water’s edge, with white and black mangroves usually growing a bit further away from the water. Red mangroves produce those overhanging branches beneath which so many of our favorite fish lurk, and it’s the red mangroves which rest atop a dense thicket of prop roots extending into the water that provide habitat for oysters, barnacles, tunicates, sponges, crabs, shrimp and juvenile fish of dozens of species.

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