I have to
start with an admission. I’m no Adonis. Brad
Pitt and that Spanish bloke from Zorro – Antonio
Something-or-other I think it is, the ladies
seem to like him – have nothing to worry about.
At least I can say with a degree of confidence
that my limited features have nothing on the
hapless individuals featured on a website called
www.mingers.com – the name of the site alone
makes it worth a visit. They proudly claim to be
“the home of the facially inept”, and having
seen some of the offerings on display, I can’t
disagree. They have some howlers.
That’s how things have changed over the years –
the Internet has opened up a whole new world of
opportunities for those whose looks aren’t
exactly classical. Maybe I’m in with a chance
I’ve always wondered why you seldom see people
who look like the back end of a bus in the
media. Aliens tuning in to TV from space would
be somewhat disappointed to land on this planet
after watching our TV output during their
travels here. They’d soon realize that not all
women have Pamela Anderson’s profile.
Unfortunately, very few do.
I remember a friend of mine, German as it
happened, an enthusiastic fan of the TV series
Dallas and Dynasty at the time, going over to
the States for a visit. She was very much
looking forward to it; after all, she knew
exactly what to expect – she’d been watching
Americans on the telly for years. She came back
a little despondent, with only one thing to say
on her return: “It’s not much like Dynasty –
they’re all as ugly as we are”.
Am I the only person who actually wouldn’t
complain about seeing more unattractive people
on television? Perhaps that busty bird from Lost
who always has problems with her top shirt
buttons becoming mysteriously unfastened could
be portrayed by a 50-year-old dragon from behind
the counter at Woolworths. You know, the one
with the mustache.
I’m not putting forward a particularly good
argument here, on reflection. Television should
obviously be a beautifully perfect place, where
such common monstrosities as fat people,
overbites, unfetching haircuts and cellulite are
nowhere to be seen.
In the western world, if you want to see ugly
people, just walk outside. Ugly people abound.
The plant world tends to be a little more
attractive, though. But there are exceptions.
The rather hideous crown of thorns plant, with
its insidious little thorns and silly little
flowers perched on top is certainly up there in
the ugly scheme of things.
Tree-wise, one single example stands out as
being perhaps the ugliest tree on the planet –
the mangrove. Known as mai chai laen in Thai,
it’s an odd beast; decidedly weird. Initially,
mangrove trees seem to have little going for
them, with their twisted branches and confused
root systems that look as if they can’t decide
what they want to do.
For many people, mangrove swamps look like
muddy, unpleasant places filled with mosquitoes,
snakes and spiders. Well actually, they are. But
if you’re willing to do some squelching around
in the mud, you’ll find that hidden in the
twisted vines and branches are plenty of
reptiles, wild looking insects, crabs and other
animals that make their homes in the mangroves.
If you do decide to brave the reptiles and
creepy crawlies that make their home there, you
may be surprised by the variety of odd sounds
you will hear. The mangrove is about the only
tree I know that causes so much noise. Go
anywhere near these things at low tide, and the
mud sounds like a bowl of Rice Krispies. Snap,
crackle and pop from all directions.
You’ll always find mangroves at or near the
water’s edge in protected marine habitats, which
means that while you are likely to find
mangroves along the calm banks of the east coast
of Phuket, you’re less likely to see them on the
more wave-beaten west coast shores of the
island. Having not scanned every inch of the
west coast personally, I know that somebody will
no doubt prove me wrong on that point.
So what makes a mangrove tree a mangrove tree?
There are several features that all species of
mangrove trees have in common: A tolerance to
conditions of high soil salinity and being
submerged in water or waterlogged soil, as well
as a tolerance of low oxygen conditions.
Most plants produce seeds that don’t sprout
until they are planted. Mangrove seeds are
different because they actually start to grow
into a new plant while they are still attached
to the parent tree. These specialized seeds are
called seedlings, and once they’re ready, they
use the water around them to disperse
In the middle of a mangrove clump (known as a
mangle, if you want to get technical), the
amount of salt in the soil can be up to three
times the amount found in seawater, believe it
or not. Mangrove trees are adapted to survive in
salty soils that would kill most other kinds of
plants, which is the main reason why mangrove
trees can thrive in areas too harsh for other
One type of mangrove, the black mangrove,
performs an impressive feat – it uses snorkels,
called pneumatophores. These structures are
covered with small holes that allow the roots to
breathe in the same way a snorkel lets you
breathe while underwater.
I know the mud in which these trees live isn’t
exactly the most pleasant stuff in the world, if
you were to scoop up just one teaspoon of mud
from a mangrove forest and look at it under a
very strong microscope, you’d find that it
contains more than 10 billion bacteria which,
I’m told, is among the highest concentrations
found in marine mud anywhere.
This bacteria helps break down leaf litter and
other bits of natural material, and probably a
lot more less-natural debris that finds its way
there, in turn producing sources of nutrition
for plants and animals, making mangrove swamps
an important coastal habitat.
The mangrove may not be the prettiest tree in
the world, but at least it does a decent job.
Facially inept humans, on the other hand, well,
I’m not so sure. And if I ever suggest that
generously cleavaged ladies with blouse button
problems should be replaced on TV by women with
mustaches, someone please shoot me. Then dump me
in a mangrove swamp.