Vivipary in plants refers to a phenomenon that sexually reproduced offsprings germinate while still attached to the maternal bodies. This is mostly manifested in mangrove plants, which occur in tropical and subtropical intertidal zones and encounter harsh environmental conditions such as high salinity, high temperatures, waterlogging, hypoxia and tidal waves. Vivipary has long been recognized as one of the most important adaptive features under such a complex environment. Here we discuss four aspects of vivipary: morphological anatomy, physiology and biochemistry, molecular biology and ecological adaptation. We also discuss shortcomings in current studies and prospect of future directions. Differing from regular seed development, viviparous seeds in mangroves are evolved with many special structures, indicating a genetically based process. Hormones play an important role in regulating the process, whilst the dynamics of salt ion concentration during embryo and propagule development seems to be an adaptive feature. The ecological significance of vivipary is fully exhibited in the propagules that can effectively establish themselves on muddy tidal zones. Such a success heavily relies on sound functional features developed on the mother plants. However, the molecular mechanism and the regulation of viviparous seed development in mangroves remain elusive. Systematic studies of vivipary in mangroves not only help to understand the nature and evolutionary process of this distinct adaptive phenomenon, but also provide the foundation for mangrove forest restoration and protection in many parts of the world.