Swampy areas in the coastal regions of Florida (and some parts of Louisiana and Texas) are often covered by muddy swampland that is perfect for mangrove trees. Mangroves are ideal plants for wet and salty coastal areas where most trees cannot survive. These trees are a type of evergreen that specialize in growing sprawling, sturdy root foundations in muddy areas. These roots are impermeable to salt, allowing them to live in salty seaside conditions. The leaves of mangrove trees are tough and can withstand the salty environment where water is absorbed by the salt. 

Red Mangrove

Red Mangroves in Florida

There are four species of mangroves in the southern United States. These ecologically important trees grow between the coastline and inland marshes. Red Mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) grow closest to open water; their arrow-shaped seeds are specialized to fall into muddy soil and quickly grow lateral roots. Black Mangroves (Avicennia germinans), which have special “breathing” roots called pneumatophores that stick out of the muddy, low-oxygen soil, grow more inland. White Mangroves (Laguncularia racemosa) grow closest to the shore. Finally, Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus) grows in shallow, brackish water. All of these species help to "stabilize coastal shorelines and provide habitat for fish, manatees, and other wildlife."[1]

Mangroves create ideal conditions for other plants and animals. The trees serve as nurseries, offering protection for many small creatures by creating stable ground where animals can spawn and nest. Fiddler crabs are common in mangrove habitats, and dig burrows in the muddy soil for protection. Many species of birds thrive in mangrove forests and nest in the branches. Flamingos feed on shrimps that live among the roots. Mangrove roots also provide a stable area for marine algae and sponges to grow.

Mangrove ecosystems are very vulnerable to human activities. As urban areas continue to develop and sprawl toward the coast, roadways and other coastal construction projects (like seawalls, piers, and marinas) often destroy mangrove habitats (although strict regulations exist in many areas). If not destroyed, waste water and pollution emptied into these swampy areas can become trapped in the root systems and remain toxic for long periods of time. An oil spill like that now in the Gulf of Mexico causes serious damage, because these areas cannot be effectively cleaned.

Resources for mangroves:

[1] Gulf of Mexico: Origin, Waters, and Biota, Volume 1 – Biodiversity, edited by D. L. Felder and D. K. Camp, Texas A& M Press, 2009, pg 262