All About Mangroves on Florida’s Nature Coast
My dad stole a mangrove pod at the beach.
“You’re not allowed to take these,” he told me, pocketing a long string bean pod. I was little, but I knew my dad was a law-abiding citizen. Why would he risk taking this seed?
The whole drive home from the beach, I was worried about the police chasing us down and dragging my dad off in handcuffs (I was really little). We made it home without a side trip to jail, and the pod was soon forgotten by me.
When I was older, I saw a jar of water beside his model train table. In it was that long string bean-like pod, standing straight up, supported by rocks, a small sprout stretched out from the pod sporting two green leaves. He proudly showed off his baby sprout, telling me he had to keep a certain amount of salt in the water or it would die. It was his little obsession-special quirk. In my mind, it was still contraband.
Years later, he passed away, as did the little plant. It had not grown much, but I wondered why he thought it was that important. What was so special about that little mangrove?
The Great Mangrove Secret
Mangroves may be one of the biggest natural solutions to reducing carbon emissions in the atmosphere. There are an estimated 600,000 acres of mangroves in Florida, mainly from St. Augustine and south on the east coast and from Cedar Key through Florida’s Nature Coast and down south through the Keys.
Mangroves thrive in salt water, taking it into their roots and filtering it. And they gulp up CO2 like a teenager at the movies with a soda accompanying their extra-large popcorn. But unlike the teen, these plants take the majority of the CO2 and store it in their roots in the soil. Each tree can inhale about 680 pounds of carbon emissions from the atmosphere in its lifetime.
The carbon stored in the soil is called ‘blue carbon’, carbon captured beneath the water by the coastal and ocean environments. A mangrove forest’s ability to take in carbon emissions rivals those of land-based forest ecosystems almost 10 times over.
Although there are about 80 different species of mangroves around the world, three of those thrive in Florida: the red, white, and black mangroves. There are over 600,000 acres of mangrove forests in Florida, with a vast majority in the Everglades. However, you don’t need to trek to South Florida to see them- they are closer than you think.
The Walking Tree: Red Mangrove
Red mangroves (Rhizophora mangle), found along the coast and waterways leading from the coast are the fishermen’s friend. Their arched prop roots look as if they are taking long-legged strides to escape. And perhaps they are. Their roots drop from above and plant themselves into the soil to stabilize the base and reduce shoreline erosion. These roots form a tangled network system that provides a nursery for small fish like juvenile snook, tarpon, snapper, redfish, snook, shrimp, and crab.
Water runs through the roots which filter pollutants like nitrates and phosphates. Oysters and barnacles latch onto the mangrove’s roots, adding their natural water filtration and cleaning powers to this unique coastal ecosystem.
- Stop by Fort Island Beach on Fort Island Trail in Crystal River to see first-hand the walking trees by the beach- on the jetty side (boardwalk side of the beach).
- Location: 16000 W Fort Island Trail, Crystal River, FL 34429
Red Mangroves are the developers of the mangrove world. Their long seed pods drop from the trees and float until they catch on soil- even in the crevice of exposed limestone, and they grow, networking with their mangrove neighbors like a Tik Tok influencer at a travel conference. Their entwined roots catch soil and debris. Eventually, they create their own island paradise for the local fish and bird populations to enjoy. Egrets, herons and cormorants are among the coastal birds that build their nests in the protection of the mangrove branches.
- A paddle out or boat ride can lead you to any of the mangrove islands along the Salt River from Crystal River to Homosassa. Homosassa’s River Safaris offers airboat tours through the estuaries and shallow-water mangrove islands
- Location: 10823 W Yulee Dr, Homosassa, FL 34448
Wetlands along the Nature Coast act as a buffer from coastal storms, as do mangrove swamps. Their sturdy roots help to reduce the storm surge and reduce erosion, acting as a first line of defense for coastal communities.
- Drive along W. Ozello Trail to Ozello Community Park. Along the way, you will see red mangrove buffer zones. At the Community Park, mangroves- black and red, frame the waterway forming natural sea walls.
- Location: 398 N Pirate Point, Crystal River, FL 34429
Our Other Mangroves
Gnarled Fingers: Black Mangroves
Like a Tolkienesque character, the spindly roots of black mangroves (Avicennia germinas) rise from the mud like a witch’s gnarled fingers. But these roots aren’t casting spells, they are the source of breathing for the black mangrove. Black mangroves are often found with the red but can exist in higher elevations.
- Spot the black mangroves at the Ozello Community Park boat ramp, or if you are headed south, the pneumatophores (finger-roots), surround the Red Spring on the Springs Trail at Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park. You can also spot red mangroves on land and on the paddle trail.
- Location: 8737 U.S. Highway 19, North Port Richey, FL 34668
The white mangrove (Languncularia racemose) has no unusual root systems, but what it lacks in roots it makes up in height. It can grow 30-50 feet and exist in higher elevations. Their seeds are fat pods and their leaves have two glands on either side of the stem that secrete sugar, which attracts insects. The leaves also excrete salt. White mangroves don’t thrive well in colder temperatures.
- You can find white mangroves in Warner Boyce Salt Springs State Park along the Springs Trail.
Reforestation and Restoration
The 1996 Florida Mangrove Trimming and Preservation Act was put in place to stop the unnecessary destruction of the mangrove forests and also to encourage Florida landowners to preserve, protect and even cultivate mangroves on their shoreline lands.
The benefits of mangroves in the environment have not been ignored. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection partnering with the City of Marco Island, recently wrapped up a 2-year project that involved restoring two hundred acres of mangroves of Fruit Farm Creek in the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.
In 2022 The Coastal Conservation Association of Florida had volunteers collect mangrove pods on the Treasure Coast Indian River Land Trust Coastal Oaks property to take to Duke Energy Mariculture Center in Crystal River nursery facility in Crystal River to be cultivated until they are ready to plant out. These new mangroves are slated to be planted in coastal areas affected by Hurricane Ian.
Small plants- big impacts. Mangroves play a vital role in Florida, the world, and in the future.