Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

American justice

with 24 comments

American Water Willow Flower 7477B

What an injustice it is that I’ve gone 4 years and 5 months without ever showing you the common wildflower known as American water-willow, Justicia americana. In central Texas these plants are a familiar sight in wet soil along creeks and even occasionally in the shallow water of the creeks themselves. The flowers, which vary from about a quarter of an inch (6mm) to five-eighths of an inch (15mm), are mostly white but bear purple markings on the middle lobe of the lower lip. Most water-willows aren’t as cobwebbed as this one, which I saw on the Shield Ranch as part of a field trip on October 18.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 6, 2015 at 5:16 AM

24 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. I found a few of these while visiting a local pond a few years ago. Ours was more a purple than white. Go Botany says pink to red or white, but mine was definitely purple

    Steve Gingold

    November 6, 2015 at 5:26 AM

    • I checked out the Go Botany site for Justicia americana at


      and saw, as you said, that it mentions the possibility of red petals, which I’ve never encountered. I have occasionally seen a pinkish or pale violet tinge, but nothing leaning toward a real red.

      The flower in your linked photograph looks different enough from my (admittedly limited) conception of American water willow that I’m wondering if that’s really what it was, especially since the Go Botany map shows that the only attested place for Justicia americana in all of New England is a county half-way up the western side of Vermont. What do you think?

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2015 at 6:55 AM

      • If you have a Peterson’s Guide, admittedly mine is an oldie printed in 1968 but most likely correct, check out the illustration and you will see a great resemblance to mine as well as the color…well, it is in black and white but in the Violet,Blue section. In mine it is on page 324/5.

        Steve Gingold

        November 6, 2015 at 6:19 PM

        • I’m sorry that I don’t have a Peterson’s Guide to follow along with. I know there can be a lot of variation in a species, especially from one region to another.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 6, 2015 at 6:23 PM

  2. It seems justice has been served. Well done.

    Jim in IA

    November 6, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    • If only justice were this easy to come by in the human world. In any situation, it’s rare that people agree on what is just.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2015 at 9:12 AM

  3. Well, it took you awhile, but you’ve done it justice. We’ll let you off for good behavior 🙂


    November 6, 2015 at 9:50 AM

  4. I think it looks like Steve G’s, only with the petals arranged differently. I’ve had a terrible time with water plants around here, seeming to be quite variable. Or maybe I was just having too much fun splashing about to focus properly!


    November 6, 2015 at 9:52 AM

    • Sounds like your aquatic hijinks trumped your scientific objectivity (scientists are supposed to be objective, aren’t they?).

      I made myself curious about the origin of hijinks. Here’s what one dictionary gives: originally Scots as high jinks, denoting antics at drinking parties: probably symbolic of nimble motion. Current senses date from the 18th cent.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2015 at 9:58 AM

  5. I’m finally figuring out that, just as different soils support different plants, so do different waters: fresh, salt, or brackish. This gem is listed as occurring in lakes, ponds and along the edges of rivers. In addition, it’s listed as a plant that provides habitat for fresh-water fish. All of that makes me suspect it’s a fresh-water plant, and that helps to explain its absence around here.

    One of the things that’s interesting to watch is the effect of salt or brackish water on fresh water plants that wash down with our floods. Two invasives, water hyacinth and alligator weed (Alternanthera philoxeroides) tend to travel together, and they can be very pretty when they first arrive on a flood. As the current slows, and salty tides mix with the fresh water, they begin to die, and soon are a gloppy mess. I just learned that alligator weed is illegal to possess or transport in Texas, and that sightings should be reported to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. I’ll do that, because I know where there are some big colonies.

    The water-willow is beautiful. I’m not used to hearing “willow” in a flower’s name, but I found desert willow in the hill country, and its flowers, though larger, had the same delicacy.


    November 6, 2015 at 6:17 PM

    • I’m not familiar with alligator weed, but water hyacinth is likewise illegal to possess in Texas.

      Your comparison of different degrees of salinity in water to different kinds of soils strikes me as apt. I’ve seen how the reddish, sandy soil of Bastrop fosters many plants that don’t grow just 25 miles to the west in Austin.

      It’s not clear how water willow came by its common name. Willow trees mostly grow by water, as does this wildflower, but then the word water is redundant once you’ve said willow. In contrast, the name desert willow makes sense because the tree somewhat resembles a willow tree but grows in arid places rather than damp ones.

      In looking at the BONAP maps for Justicia, I see there’s a Justicia lanceolata that does grow near the Texas coast.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2015 at 7:21 PM

      • I need to cultivate the habit of looking at those BONAP maps. With links to the USDA maps everywhere, they’re an easy source, but as you’ve pointed out, they aren’t always the last word on a subject.


        November 7, 2015 at 6:43 AM

        • I try to remind myself to go to BONAP more often. One advantage it has is in showing all the species of a genus on the same page.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 7, 2015 at 7:49 AM

  6. Yes, that one deserves some attention. It’s beautiful!


    November 6, 2015 at 8:36 PM

    • Pleasant little flowers they are. I suspect many people don’t know about them because of their diminutive size.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 6, 2015 at 9:00 PM

  7. This flower is an example of how good things can come in small packages, like certain short people I know. 😉 Yes, how shocking that you didn’t show us this lovely common flower until now, Steve! Don’t worry, we forgive you. 🙂


    November 7, 2015 at 5:05 AM

    • Here’s to small flowers and short people! May they both prosper.

      A couple of years ago I started saying that variety is the species of life, and we certainly have plenty here in central Texas. Some I’ve shown lots of times, and others have waited in reserve to spring forth here for the first time—either because I hadn’t previously photographed that kind of plant, or because somehow I just never got around to showing a photograph of that species. If someone had asked me whether I’d done a post about American water willow, I’d have said yes; I, too, was surprised to find that I hadn’t. I’ll have to forgive myself too.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2015 at 6:35 AM

  8. There’s a water willow and then there is a Tit Willow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AoAmmiTzliI Perhaps willow refers to a curved shape, as I have seen suggested in one etymological source.


    November 9, 2015 at 6:29 AM

    • Ah, I grew up with that song, along with others by Gilbert and Sullivan. By coincidence, yesterday afternoon we attended a Gilbert and Sullivan musicale put on by the Austin group:


      The etymologists at the American Heritage Dictionary do attribute the word willow to an Indo-European root *wel- that would have meant ‘to turn, roll,’ and which would have had derivatives referring to curved, enclosing objects. Other offshoots of that root listed in the dictionary include waltz, wallow, and revolve.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 9, 2015 at 6:48 AM

      • What a great G&S society! Did you join in the singing at the Musicale? Another happening in vibrant Austin was the annual film festival. Once again a little piece of NZ found its way to Austin http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/film/73703828/kiwis-film-makes-world-premiere-at-austin-film-festival Hmmm…I would like to wallow in willowy waltz.


        November 9, 2015 at 7:43 PM

        • This turned out to be much more a collection of solo performances than a sing-along. I sang along a little, but no one needs to hear much of my anything-but-mellifluous warbling. I can’t contribute to the musical component, but for the sake of the group I usually take photographs at these get-togethers. If you check out this archive you’ll see a familiar face in seven of the images.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 9, 2015 at 10:40 PM

          • A very familiar face having a great deal of fun with hats! Today was Cup Day in Christchurch, one of the few days when hats are worn. Eve would have fitted in easily with the punters.


            November 10, 2015 at 6:47 AM

            • The woman who coordinated the musicale was selling a bunch of hats that she’d accumulated during her years in theatre, with the proceeds to go to the Gilbert and Sullivan Society. That’s how Eve came to be trying on the headware you saw in the photographs.

              I see what you mean about Cup Day.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 10, 2015 at 7:23 AM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: