The effects of defoliation on leaf and propagule production, and leaf chemistry of the mangrove Kandelia candel (L.) Druce were evaluated in a manipulative experiment in Hong Kong. Artificial defoliation of leaf lamina at 50% of the length of midrib resulted in significant reduction in leaf, twig and propagule production, and size of the latter. Through the negative effects on propagule number and size, severe herbivory may influence fitness of the mangrove, and, thus, community structure. In contrast, no apparent adverse effects on growth and production were observable at 25% defoliation. Defoliation also significantly affected leaf chemistry of the trees, particularly those suffering 50% defoliation. Concentrations of soluble tannins and carbohydrates in leaves were significantly lower at 50% defoliation compared with the control. Total nitrogen also decreased significantly with increased per cent defoliation. Plants surviving in stressful habitats, such as mangroves, are probably more affected by loss of leaf biomass than those surviving in favourable environments.