Vascular Plants of North Carolina
Account for Looseflower Water-willow - Justicia ovata   (Walter) Lindau
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Section 6 » Order Scrophulariales » Family Acanthaceae
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Author(Walter) Lindau
DistributionRestricted to the Coastal Plain, though it occurs over nearly all of the province except for the far eastern counties; no records east of Gates, Washington, Beaufort, and Craven counties. Does not occur in the Sandhills region.

This is a Coastal Plain species, ranging from southeastern VA south to central FL and west to AL.
AbundanceInfrequent to locally fairly common, north to Edgecombe and Martin counties, but rare to uncommon in the northern portions.
HabitatThis species favors margins of swamps and wetter bottomlands, often growing along the edges of water, both in brownwater and in blackwater settings. It less often grows in marshes or ditches, and usually is found in somewhat shaded places; it does not seem to grow in ponded sites, but prefers at least some flowing water.
PhenologyBlooms from May to July, and fruits shortly after flowering.
IdentificationThis is a less familiar species in the state to most biologists than is its "cousin" -- J. americana, in part because it often grows in mosquito-infested places. It is a medium-sized herb, growing to about 1' tall, with few branches. The scattered leaves are opposite, ascending, mostly elliptic (but somewhat variable), to about 4-5" long and about 1-1.5" wide, with wavy to entire margins. As with the other species, the flowers tend to be in small clusters, extended away from the stem on long and ascending stalks of a few inches, though there usually is a terminal cluster as well. Each flower is lavender to very pale purple, but with darker purple markings on the lower lip. The shape of the flower is two-parted, with a small 2-lobed upper lip and a much larger and broader 3-parted lower lip, looking a bit like a scroph flower. Each flower is about 1/2" across. This species will likely not be identified just from its leaves, but when in bloom, the lavender flowers with purple on the lower lip make the identification easy. Note that the illustration of "Justicia americana" in RAB (1968) is in error; the drawing is of J. ovata.
Taxonomic CommentsNone

Other Common Name(s)Ovate Water-willow
State RankS3S4
Global RankG5
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