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IUCN threat status:

Vulnerable (VU)

Comprehensive Description

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The tea mangrove is found from Nicaragua to Colombia and is most common on the pacific coast in mangals (Zuchowski & Forsyth 2007). Some isolated groups are found on the Atlantic coasts of Nicaragua, Panama, and Colombia, but are very rare (Smith 2004). Trees grow in the intertidal zone, mostly sheltered by protected beaches or estuarine banks (Tomlinson 1986). They prefer more elevated areas and are more sensitive to soil salinity than other mangrove species, inhabiting only soils with less than 37% salt concentrations (Smith 2004, Jimenez 1984).

These mangroves have swollen buttress roots that stand above the mud in low tide, and contain lenticels that aid in aeration (Simberloff 1983). These thick roots grow in succession, new roots growing above earlier roots (Tomlinson 1986). Trees can be up to 20 meters tall, and have thick, rounded, simple, alternate fibrous leaves (Zuchowski & Forsyth 2007). The leaves may contain three sets of glands along the margin and possibly on the surface of the sepals, but are not always present. The leaf glands may be used for salt excretion, and the sepal glands as extra floral nectaries that may attract insects (Smith 2004).

The white flowers are large and showy, with 5 petals up to 6 centimeters long, and have two large, pink-green bracts, which are located below the flower (Zuchowski & Forsyth 2007). Flowering occurs from winter to early spring and fruiting peaks in late fall (October) (Tomlinson 1986). Hummingbirds and insects sometimes visit flowers, but pollination is mostly unstudied and the actual pollinators might be nocturnal (Zuchowski & Forsyth 2007).

Fruits are heavy and bulb-shaped with a large point at the bottom (Simberloff 1983). They have a hard brown outer covering (exocarp) and a red/brown fleshy interior layer (mesocarp) (Tomlinson 1986). Embryos of this species are cryptoviviparous, meaning the embryo germinates inside the seed while it is still attached to the three. The embryo swells, breaking the seed coat but does not break out of the hard fruit until later (Tomlinson 1986). Fruits are dispersed by falling into the water, pointy side down, and can float before releasing seeds. The seeds germinate rapidly after they fall, swelling after a few hours, meaning the fruits cannot float for very long or for long distances (Smith 2004). The embryos quickly produce roots out of the hard exocarp, extending into the mud of shallow water (Tomlinson, 1986).

Azteca ants have a nonobligatory association with Pelliciera. These ants protect the plant from herbivorous insects and the plant provides the ants with shelter, crevices to forage, and nectar from extra floral nectaries. The association, however, does not occur through the entire geographic range of the plant (Tomlinson 1986). These ants tend to select trees that have been damaged by storms or other insects (Smith 2004).

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