Monday, June 18, 2007

Water Willow

Justicia americana, or American water willow, is a common plant in Kenney Park along the Olentangy River, but unless you visit rivers frequently, you'll never see it. This plant only grows along riverbanks. During the spring floods, its roots are completely underwater. It isn't until water levels drop in mid-spring when this plant starts to emerge. Then about the second week of June, it begins to bloom. The flowers are most beautiful. A very pale purple with darker purple spots, it superfically resembles an orchid. However, this plant is in the Acanthaceae family, which doesn't have that many Ohio representatives. Wild Petunias or the Ruellias are also in this family. Anyways, I love seeing it bloom since it reminds me of an earlier time when I was a young college intern working with the ODNR Division of Natural Areas and Preserves in Northeast Ohio. Emliss Ricks and I found this growing in the cracks of rocks adjacent to the Little Beaver Creek State Wild River, somewhere near Little Beaver State Park. We found it striking, and Emliss, an excellent botanist, didn't recognize it, so we "Nuked it" with Newcomb's wildflower guide, and sure enough, we both learned a new plant. I've photographed the plant several times and from different angles recently. First we have the flower, and then two views of it growing in its riverine habitat. The first two shots are from the Olentangy, while the second is from Scioto Brush Creek, where it was especially luxurious. If you like damselflies, be sure to check out water willow along streams, because damselflies seem to love this plant. In the last photo, several powdered dancers are "practicing their love" of this plant. They rest on it, lay there eggs on submerged stems, find mates, and hover in and out of it. This plant is a true damsel magnet!





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