Archive for the 'Plants' Category

A Blue View: Floating Forests

A Blue View is a weekly perspective on the life aquatic, hosted by National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli.

From the smallest plants and animals invisible to the human eye to entire ecosystems, every living thing depends on and is intricately linked by water.

Tune in to 88.1 WYPR every Tuesday at 5:45 p.m. as John brings to the surface important issues and fascinating discoveries making waves in the world today.

April 16, 2014: Floating Forests

A Blue View podcastClick here to listen to John discuss
the important role mangrove forests
play in the health of our oceans!

Gardeners in Maryland know that most trees in our temperate climate don’t like having wet feet. And water that’s salty? Forget about it. Around here, having tree roots submerged in saltwater is guaranteed to kill off your landscaping.

But far south of the Chesapeake, fringing tropical and subtropical coastlines, there exist floating forests of mangroves, whose roots grow in a luxuriant tangle at the ocean’s edge. And there, they thrive.

Botanists call the 50 species of mangroves halophylic, or “salt loving.” Mangroves have adapted to putting down roots where other plants can’t: in areas inundated daily by the tide; in thin, nutrient-poor, low-oxygen soils; and in water that varies from fresh to brackish to salty. Just how much salt can mangroves tolerate? Well, typical seawater has a salinity of 35 parts per thousand; in other words, about 35 grams of salt for every liter of sea water. Some species of mangroves can survive in salinities of more than 90 parts per thousand!

To thrive in this salty abundance, these plants need strategies to clear the excess salt. Some species excrete it through glands in their leaves. Others use their roots.

The weird, knobby roots of mangroves actually make traveling to paradise for a tropical vacation possible—tough, woody evergreen mangroves stabilize the soil and prevent many islands from simply washing away.

Thank the mangroves, too, for the colorful diversity of fish and invertebrates you see on your next coral reef dive. Many oceanic and coral reef fish—including snapper, tarpon and lobster—spawn in the nursery provided by the mangrove’s submerged tangle of roots. A mangrove forest is a rich hub of biodiversity, supporting a unique ecosystem of bacteria, plants, mammals, amphibians, invertebrates and birds—some found nowhere else.

Earth’s largest mangrove forest—the Sunderbans of India and Bangladesh—is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to at least 250 species of birds, endangered estuarine crocodiles and even Bengal tigers!

In North America, mangrove swamps are found throughout the Gulf Coast, from Florida to Texas. The largest mangrove forest in the United States is in Florida’s aptly named Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge. This special place is home to many endangered species, including West Indian Manatees, and clouds of scarlet ibis and white pelicans.

The scarlet ibis typically inhabits mangrove swamps ranging from northern South America southward along the coast of Brazil, occasionally making visits in Florida.

The scarlet ibis typically inhabits mangrove swamps ranging from northern South America southward along the coast of Brazil, occasionally making visits in Florida.

Although mangrove forests host so-called “charismatic megafauna” like manatees and tigers, truly their greatest treasure may be the thick mud of mangrove leaf litter—fertile with bacteria and fungi—that accumulates in the water below the trees. There, detritivores, like crabs and other animals, feed on decaying leaf litter and contribute to a complex food web that begins, literally, in the mud.

Other microfauna encrust the mangrove’s submerged roots, including a profusion of filter feeding mussels and barnacles. Like Chesapeake’s oysters, mangrove barnacles efficiently filter pollutants from the water.

These crustaceans and mollusks in turn support populations of shrimp and fish that are economically important to Gulf of Mexico fisheries. So, the next time you’re dining on sustainably-caught shrimp, take a moment to thank a mangrove for your meal.

Blog-Header-JohnRacanelli

Plant Update – July 5

PlantUpdate_baltimore

Our golden candle plant is flowering! 

The golden candle is actually one of the first plants guests see upon entering our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit.

golden candle plant

Also known as the lollipop plant or the golden shrimp plant, it has yellow spiky structures (known as bracts) that protect white flowers. The leaves that surround the golden candle plant’s yellow structure are each around six inches long. The plant earned the nickname “shrimp plant” because the bracts are arranged in a pattern that resembles scales on a shrimp.

golden candle plant

The golden candle can grow to be about two to six feet tall in its natural habitat, the rain forests of Peru. While the plant blooms year-round in its native rain forests, it often blooms seasonally when grown in the United States.

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!

Animal/Plant Updates – May 3

Between our Baltimore and Washington, DC, venues, more than 17,500 animals representing 900 species call the National Aquarium home. There are constant changes, additions, and more going on behind the scenes that our guests may not notice during their visit. We want to share these fun updates with our community so we’re bringing them to you in our weekly Animal Update posts!

Check our blog every Friday to find out what’s going on… here’s what’s new this week!

Meet our new orbicular burrfish!

We have a new orbicular burrfish on exhibit in our Hiding gallery!

Orbicular burrfish

Native to Indo-Pacific reefs, the orbicular burrfish hides in large sponges during the day and comes out at night to feed. While they may look sweet, these fish have a mean bite! They’re mouth structures are built for crushing hard-shelled invertebrates.

Did you know? Orbicular burrfish, like all burrfish and pufferfish species, can take in water to inflate their bodies when threatened.

PlantUpdate_baltimore

Cacao tree has new pods!

The cacao tree in our Upland Tropical Rain Forest exhibit has two new pods!

cacao tree

Seeds found in the pods of this South American tree are used to make chocolate! Cacao pods can range in color (from green to a deep maroon) depending on genetics and ripeness.

Be sure to check back every Friday to find out what’s happening!

Guest Post: NWF Wildlife Week Celebrates Trees, Wildlife and Water

Today’s post comes from Kevin Coyle, Vice President, Education & Training at National Wildlife Federation (NWF). This year, NWF’s Wildlife Week, March 18-24, celebrates trees and their importance to wildlife and people! 

March 18 to 24 is National Wildlife Week. And, this year, we are focusing on the importance of trees to wildlife and water. Our 2013 theme is “branching out for wildlife” and anyone interested in learning about trees, tree planting or wildlife should visit us online. We are often asked why trees are so important for wildlife and water. There are at least five compelling reasons:

Trees consume water and can regulate stream flows
Urban areas experience increasing amounts of paving and land development that convert large areas of spongy natural land to hard surfaces that cannot absorb water. When rain hits paved-over or built-over areas, it runs off directly into storm drains and eventually into area streams and rivers. A hard, fast rain, with no vegetation or natural land to slow it down can hit these water bodies with such speed and force that it will result in flooding and severe erosion problems. Downstream areas such as bays and estuaries can get deadly slugs of sediment and chemical pollution from these run-off surges.

Anyone who has stood under a tree at the beginning of a rain shower (not advisable in lighting storms) knows that tree canopy absorbs falling rain. In urban areas this can reduce water run-off by as much as 10 percent and that can make a huge difference in the speed and erosive force of the rain shower. That is one reason trees are increasingly becoming a standard design feature for automobile parking lots which, left uncovered, are huge run-off generators. These same parking lots also heat up on hot summer days and contribute to spikes in temperatures know as “heat islands.” Tree canopy is an effective coolant in these areas and that is likewise good for local wildlife and water.

Trees also need water to grow and can help consume excess water in urban areas. Urban planners and designers are paying more and attention to filling remaining “plantable” spaces in cities and suburbs with trees. The recent trend of planting areas called “rain gardens” in parking lots and other developed areas that are specifically designed to capture rain water and help it percolate into the ground. This absorption is facilitated by tree planting.

Trees remove pollutants from the air and water
The science is also clear that trees and wooded areas help to filter pollutants out of the environment and can keep air and water cleaner. They cut down on sediment running into streams, rivers and bays and they also absorb chemical pesticides, and heavy metals, such as cadmium, that can be devastating to water quality, fisheries and wildlife.

Trees can serve as anchors to stream-side habitat areas
The term “riparian area” may not be front of mind for most people but such an area is the (usually narrow) zone of stream-side vegetation that follows the stream and occupies the space between the water and dry land. Because of differences in soils and the amount of moisture they hold, these transitional zone have many unique characteristics.

In some farming and dry land regions riparian areas are the only places where trees are found. The trees there are playing an important role by stabilizing soils, cooling the water, dropping food and nutrients into the stream and providing moist environments for a wealth of native plants in the under-story  These vegetative zones help to keep streams cleaner and they literally absorb and slow down food waters. In many parts of the nation, such as in the West, wooded riparian areas support as many as 70 percent of local species. They are vitally important to birds, insects, mammals, amphibians and many other creatures and when they are cleared for farming, development or just improved views of the stream, wildlife diversity drops sharply. Likewise, tree planting becomes an important first to restore degraded riparian zones.

Trees provide resting places during migration
Resident wildlife species certainly need trees but they are also important for our migrating visitors. Birds and insect species traveling over great distances need wooded areas to rest and refuel on their long journeys. Central Park in New York City is famous for being an area that attracts an unbelievable diversity of bird species despite being surrounded by skyscrapers and America’s most dense urban environment. One study in the United Kingdom found that even a small area of an acre can be vitally important to migrating species in need of a little rest.

Trees, living and dead, are great for food and habitat
There are several fallen trees right outside the windows of the National Wildlife Federation HQ in Reston, Virginia. In February of this year, a staff meeting was put on pause so we could observe a beautiful pair of pileated woodpeckers driving holes into the logs and feeding on the insects inside. Live trees offer creatures important habitat for sure but dead trees are important too because they provide food, holes and cavities for nests and shelter. In the eastern forests, for example, a combination of shelter and food from living trees such as an abundant acorn crop combined with rotting trees and snags on the forest floor can provide an unbeatable safety net of support to wildlife species throughout the food web.

National Wildlife Federation is honored to be affiliated with National Aquarium. Our reasons for joining forces include the protection of the Chesapeake Bay and other coastal areas. Forested areas, large and small, are vital to that goal!

Join us this year in celebrating National Wildlife Week and supporting nation-wide tree planting programs!

Thoughtful Thursdays: Students Help to Restore Atlantic White Cedar Population

As part of this year’s Wetland Nursery Program, our Aquarium Conservation Team (ACT!) is working with schools along Maryland’s Eastern Shore to repopulate Atlantic white cedar trees.

This project teaches students sustainable methods of raising tree saplings in an indoor ‘greenhouse’ and how to transplant them into nature, with the hope that we can slowly but surely bring back the species!

Juvenile Atlantic white cedar trees

Once common in freshwater wetlands, Atlantic white cedars are now rare. Lumber from these cedars is water-resistant and highly valued for use in boats, furniture and houses. Overharvesting of this natural resource has decimated the population and the species is now on the Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s Watch List.

After learning about the history of Atlantic white cedars and the need to restore them, students used clippings from older trees to propagate 500 new trees and helped to re-pot 200 trees that had outgrown their planters and were ready for transfer.

Students show off their healthy juvenile Atlantic white cedars!

All year, our group of students will continue to regularly monitor the trees’ growth and, with the help of their teachers, learn more about freshwater wetlands. In the Spring, the students will join ACT! at Nassawango Creek Preserve to plant their trees.

Owned by the Nature Conservancy, the Preserve encompasses more than 10,000 acres and is home to cypress swamps and upland forests. The planting will take place in a newly cleared 8-acre plot adjacent to Nassawango Creek!

This project would not be possible without the support of our partners: The Nature Conservancy, Chesapeake Bay Trust, The Munson Foundation, RBC Wealth Management, and the Chesapeake Conservation Corps.


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