Open Thread: Mangroves

Hosted by a mangrove tree

Did you know that mangroves are one of the only trees that can live in salty water?  They grow in swamps and estuaries and bayous, places where the sea and freshwater rivers combine.  Some deal with the salt by just… well, dealing with it, tolerating it at a cellular level.  Some filter it out at the roots.  Some actually push it out again - the leaves grow salt crystals as the tree secretes it.  That’s why when you see a mangrove swamp, they’re pretty much the only plants in it - other plants can’t live where mangroves live, and mangroves can’t live where other plants can.

Also, they’re really pretty.

…that’s it, there’s no deeper meaning or metaphor here.  I just think mangroves are pretty cool.

Do you know any interesting trivia about plant life?  Have you ever kayaked through a mangrove swamp?  Do you find swamps in general to be starkly beautiful examples of unspoiled nature, or muggy buggy disease-and-alligator-ridden places that air conditioning was invented to protect against?  (As a native Floridian, it’s totally ok to hold both views simultaneously!)
~ Kristycat



AnnaLK said...

Well, I have something awesome, but it's completely unrelated to the OP...
Then again, it says "open thread", right?

Anyway, the UK house of commons voted in favour of an equal marriage bill yesterday,* YOU GUYS I AM SO PROUD OF MY PARLIAMENT RIGHT NOW. I just wanted to squee for a bit :)

*The bill in question still has a fair way to go before it makes it into law, but yesterday was a very important step.

Kerik said...

I have been a swamp fan ever since childhood. Long before I ever knew there were any others. I think it's an individual thing. My dentist, a good photographer, is big on deserts, and those don't do much for me.
I was delighted when grown, to see that there are other people that value wetlands...and horrified to see how many we've lost. But I helped save one in my town.

Dav said...

Fun plant trivia:
Eggplant plants have tiny tiny little thorns. And they're a really attractive violet-purple color.

redsixwing said...

EdinburghEye, that gave me the giggles. So true.

Did you know that mangroves can be kept as aquarium plants? It takes a big freakin' aquarium, but people have set up some seriously cool marine mangrove tanks. Usually only 2 or 3 mangroves, and lots of pruning, but you can emulate a whole little environment like that, with fish that will live under them and everything. I think it'd be awesome to keep one, if I ever win the lottery or something. *s*

Trynn said...

Well, that depends. I live in a Great Lakes State, so there's no saltwater swamps where I live, so for all I know this is comparing apples to oranges. However, I greatly dislike swamps.

On the other hand, when I'm traveling, I'm totally into nature, and people who don't know me think I just really like outdoors type stuff, but it's really a case of temporary personality changes. Anyway, when I went to Florida, I LOVED the swamp... I didn't get to see much of it (my friends were not as keen on exploring nature as was I) but I liked what little I saw of it.

So, answer for me: it depends.

Kay said...

Regarding swamps: they are beautiful creations of nature when they are over there and I am over here.

Mother Nature apparently doesn't like the color black. There are no naturally black flowers although there are some that are so dark a red or purple as to look black at first glance.

EdinburghEye said...

Did you know that every part of a cherry tree - flowers, leaves, bark, wood, cherrystones, everything except for the flesh of the fruit itself, contains enough cyanide to be mildly toxic?

It's kindly old Mother Nature's way of saying "Look at this tree. Isn't it pretty? It can kill you."

storiteller said...

Eggplant plants have tiny tiny little thorns. And they're a really attractive violet-purple color.

They're a lot less attractive when they keep poking you because you're trying to pull the eggplant fruit off the vine. Eggplants are hideously stubborn to remove for delicious eating.

Personally, I love swamps, despite the bugginess. I took a whole ecology class in college on wetlands and the labs were glorious. We mucked about in bogs, swamps, and marshes and took measurements. You haven't really experienced a bog until you've eaten fresh cranberries off of a bush. I also greatly enjoyed the Everglades when I visited there, although the only animals out were giant mating crickets. A few days later, a tropical storm blew through and I suspect that our lack of critters was not coincidental.

Oxbow lakes are one of the neat related sister ecosystems of swamps. I visited the Amazon last summer and the oxbow lake was one of my favorite places because it hosted the mega-badass river otters. They ate piranhas!

Aidan Bird said...

I went kayaking in a mangrove area! It was by an island with a friend, and I bumped my kayak against a sea of roots. At first I thought it was just some sort of weird plant forest, until the guide told us that it was the roots of the mangrove tree that was just a few feet away in the middle of the forest of tubular root thingies. Pretty fascinating trees.

MaryKaye said...

Two plant stories:

(1) Plants which fix nitrogen do it by way of root nodules full of symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria. The bacteria get nutrients from the plant and in return provide fixed nitrogen, which the plant can't make itself. But there is an evolutionary issue for this system: what if the bacteria stop making nitrogen and just freeload? It's very easy for this to evolve and it spoils the whole scheme.

Turns out, the plant measures the output of its root nodules, and it will choke off the oxygen supply to any node that stops producing! Not such a friendly little symbiosis after all.... (I think the plant in question was a bean, but the problem is general so I bet the solution is too.)

(2) I study phylogenetic trees--diagrams which express the relationships between different kinds of living things. There is a mathematical problem called "long branch attraction" which says that very unusual critters tend to be incorrectly placed together. (I don't work on it per se but it's certainly on my mind.)

So, one day I sat down at an evolution conference with a botanist, over hamburgers, and asked him what he was working on. He said, he was measuring the mutation rate along branches of trees. I thought, cool! that's almost what I do. He said, he was having trouble with long branches. I thought, yeah, don't we all?

Then he said, "Only a really sloppy homeowner lets them get that long."

For a moment I had no idea what he meant, and then I burst out laughing--when I explained, so did he. I had not understood a single thing he said, because when he said "tree" he meant a big leafy plant, and when he said "branch" he meant a limb! Homeowners were sawing off the limbs before they became long enough--that was his long branch problem.

This turned out to be a useful experience, because about two years ago I had to help revise a grant from someone who wanted to draw (phylogenetic) trees of the relationships among different parts of a (physical) tree. Having had the problem myself, I sent back a critique that said "Ban the word 'tree.' The diagrams are 'phylogenies' and the organisms are 'sequoias'." It helped clarity quite a bit.

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