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The mangrove forest photographed at Ocean Ridge Natural Area on the Lake Worth Lagoon in Palm Beach County.

Some call them Florida's walking trees. But in different ways, they're really Florida's guardian trees. They are the mangroves.

Globally, there are 50 species of mangroves, three of which are found in Florida — red, white and black. Some include a fourth tree in the category — silver buttonwood. The three species have two things in common: the ability to tolerate salt by either blocking it or processing it out, and seedlings that hatch while on the parent trees called propagules.

Mangroves inhabit tidal swamps. Their roots provide safe places for the spawn of fish, crustaceans and shellfish, including some endangered species. Their branches serve as rookeries for birds, where roseate spoonbills and brown pelicans can raise their young out of the reach of predators. Beyond that, mangroves provide a vital buffer against storm surge and flooding. They guard the land itself. They stabilize shorelines, and they filter water, helping maintain quality and clarity.

It's estitmated that there are 469,000 acres of mangrove forest in Florida. That might sound like a lot, but mangroves have been on the decline for decades. The Lake Worth Lagoon in Palm Beach County has lost 87 percent of its mangrove acreage — crowded out by development and invasive species such as the Australian pine. The remaining 276 acres, scattered throughout the lagoon, are protected. Also, efforts are being to restore some of the lost acreage. Ocean Ridge Natural Area is an example. Each species occupies a niche within a mangrove forest, the red sitting in the water, the white on the bank, the black in between.

  Florida's Mangroves  
red mangrove black mangrove white mangrove
Red Manrove Black Mangrove White Mangrove
Photographs by David Sedore. All photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.