Bakau Breathers

Serina Rahman is the co-founder of Kelab Alami and a Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. She is also a winner of the Iskandar Malaysia Social Hero Awards (IMSHA)


Mangrove trees are unique species that can survive living in salt water, and spend much of their time soaked in water every day. But how do they breathe?

We’ve often been taught that trees take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, a process called photosynthesis. But trees also need to breathe or respire (like humans), and they do this through their roots. This is harder for mangrove trees because they are submerged in water and anaerobic mud (mud that has very little oxygen content) for long periods of time, so their structures have adapted to grow these pneumatophores or breathing roots. 

These roots grow to a height just above the low tide level and have small openings so that oxygen can be taken in (just as how humans inhale) and send to the rest of the tree’s system. 

Bakau Breathers

A close look at pneumatophores can be very interesting. Different species have different shaped roots, and some have incredible patterns (like in some species of Sonneratia sp.). Being able to match the shape of the root with a tree helps to identify it. Sonneratia sp. (also known as pokok berembang) has roots in the shape of cones, while Avicennia sp. (also known as pokok api-api) has thinner pencil shaped roots. 

In some mangrove forests, these roots are tightly packed together, while in others they are more spaced out. Kelab Alami runs guided mangrove habitat walks where you can find out more about these amazing forest features. Log on to for more information.

Bakau Breathers