Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Water Willow (Justicia americana)

There's a special place in my heart for those plants that have found ways to thrive in the kinds of environments that are inhospitable to most. The places where the swiftly moving waters of the Susquehanna meet the leading edges of cobble-covered river islands is one of those environments. While sauntering the border of Paines Island I happened upon the beautiful plant called water willow, and it was in full bloom!

When I look straight into the center of the flower I see someone singing with eyes squinted and arms outstretched. Do you see it too?

Water willow is a very interesting low-growing shrub of a plant. It's got an eight-sided ridged stem and branches, long slender oppositely branched leaves, and at least in this case is firmly rooted between the river cobbles.

While the flowers are beautiful, what initially caught my attention was that this plant was alone near the leading edge of Paines Island surrounded by nothing but river cobbles. I knew immediately that this has got to be one hardy plant. At present the water level is low, and a wide expanse of the islands edge is dry. However, there are times throughout each year when this water willow is totally inundated beneath raging waters, and yet, in spite of these harsh conditions this particular plant is thriving. It is thriving not only to the point of having the energy to live, but also to reproduce. Some of today's flowers will become next month's seeds that get carried farther downstream so that the gift of the water willow may colonize new river islands which will be blessed by its slender green leaves and singing flowers for years to come.

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