Trees, Shrubs, and Palms of Panama

Trees, Shrubs, and Palms of Panama

Rhizophora mangle L.

Family: Rhizophoraceae

Common names: mangle rojo, mangle colorado

Photo: R. Pérez

Description: A tall tree of salt marshes, with a straight, cylindrical trunk and spectacular stilt roots. In large individuals, the roots can be more than 2 m long, and branched. The bark is smooth and reddish brown. Leaves are simple, opposite, densely clustered toward the branch ends. They are shiny green, secondary veins are barely visible, and they often have small black spots.

photos: leaf... leaf-flower... root... leaf-fruit... all parts... leaf dots... flower...

drawings: all parts...

scans: leaf...

Drawing: R. Pérez

Flowers and fruits: Flowers are medium-sized, whitish or yellow, in small groups along the branches; there can be some present at any time of the year, but most are produced from August to December. The fruit is a cylinder, enlarged at one end, but it grows longer and longer for several weeks after maturing and while still on the tree. This is because the seed germinates inside the fruit and grows a stem. Then the seed falls and floats, but with one heavy end down, until it roots in mud. Fruits can be seen throughout the year.

Distribution: This is the dominant mangrove of Central Panama, and the extensive forests on both Caribbean and Pacific coasts are dominated by it.

How to recognize: See Avicennia germinans for a comparison of the mangrove species. Rhizophora is always readily distinguished by the immense stilt roots. In small individuals, leaves are distinctive in being opposite and densely clustered at the branch tips. But the closely related Rhizophora harrisonii is similar in these ways, and is differentiated on the basis of flower size and number; it is much less common than R. mangle.

Uses: The wood is hard, heavy, prized for construction, and often appears in local markets.