Species Profile

American Water-willow

Scientific Name: Justicia americana
Taxonomy Group: Vascular Plants
COSEWIC Range: Ontario, Quebec
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: May 2021
COSEWIC Status: Threatened
COSEWIC Status Criteria: A2ace+4ace
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This aquatic wildflower of lake and river shorelines occurs at 13 sites in southern Ontario and southwestern Quebec. Although still locally numerous, its numbers have declined significantly in the past 10 years, driven by large losses from the Rivière des Mille Îles in Quebec. Declines are mostly attributable to unnaturally severe or prolonged water level fluctuations caused by water level management and climate change. Invasive species such as European Reed and Blue Cattail are likely to contribute to future population declines.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 1984. Status re-examined and confirmed in May 2000 and May 2021.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Threatened
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2003-06-05

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of American Water-willow

American Water-willow Photo 1

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Description

The American Water-willow is an aquatic herb which grows 20 to 100 cm high. Stems develop at the base of the main stem (which may be simple or branched) and run along the surface of the ground. The leaves are undivided, narrow and elongated in shape, and occur in opposite pairs along the stem. White or pale violet, tube-shaped flowers appear on long thin stalks that originate at the junction of the upper leaves with the main stem. The fruit is a capsule which contains 2 to 4 beige or light brown seeds.

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Distribution and Population

The American Water-willow occurs in east central North America, and extends as far south as Georgia and Texas. In Canada, it is at the northern edge of its range in southern Quebec ( along the St. Lawrence River near Montreal) and southern Ontario (along Lake Erie). It has been known to occur at eight sites in the two provinces, but it has disappeared from several of these. The total number of known stems in Canada is about 400,000, and this has changed little over the last 15 years.

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Habitat

The American Water-willow grows along shorelines and sometimes in nearby wetlands, as well as along streams where the bottom is composed of gravel, sand or organic matter. It prefers areas of hard water; it either grows above the water or is submerged.

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Biology

In Canada, the American Water-willow is at the northern limit of its distribution. It is a pioneering species that helps to stabilize banks and needs open habitat with little competition from other plants. It lives in colonies with others of its kind. Growth begins in the spring and flowering occurs in May or early summer. Bees are the main pollinators. The seeds mature from mid-July to the end of the summer. The species reproduces from seeds and also spreads by underground rhizomes to form colonies of up to 100,000 stems.

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Threats

In Canada, the American Water-willow is limited by climate as well as the lack of suitable habitat. It occurs in highly developed parts of Canada, where much of the suitable habitat has been impacted by residential, industrial and recreational activities. The American Water-willow is thought to be sensitive to industrial pollution.

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Protection

Federal Protection

The American Water-willow is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

The American Water-willow occurs in Long Point National Wildlife Area, which is federal land protected under SARA. The largest population in Ontario occurs in Point Pelee National Park, where it is protected under the Canada National Parks Act. In addition, it is protected by the Quebec Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the American Water-willow (Justicia americana) in Canada
Status Final posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Team

National Recovery Team for the American Water-Willow

  • Sylvain Paradis - Chair/Contact - Parks Canada
    Phone: 418-649-8248  Fax: 418-648-4847  Send Email

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Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date In 2006, field visits were conducted in Ontario and Quebec reconfirming the presence and status of the American Water-willow in two sites in Ontario, The Niagara Parks Commission site (on Dufferin Islands), and Lyon’s Creek site. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities The American Water-willow is continually monitored by Éco-Nature as part of their yearly stewardship activities. The National Heritage Information Centre is surveying for the American Water-willow in Long Point National Wildlife Area and Port Burwell Provincial Park. An inventory of the American Water-willow will be taken in Point Pelee National Park. In partnership with Brock University, Niagara Parks Commission is creating a management plan for the recovery of this species on Dufferin Islands. Summary of Recovery Activities Wetland restoration projects are taking place on Pelee Island. Since 2001, Éco-nature has been involved in stewardship activities, including inventories and education and awareness along Rivière des Mille-Iles. URLs Éco-Nature: Parc de la Riviére des Mille-îIes: http://www.parc-mille-iles.qc.ca/indexhf.htm McGill University: Canada’s Species at Risk:http://www.canadianbiodiversity.mcgill.ca/english/species/endangered/endangeredpages/jun_ame.htm Niagara Parks Commission:http://www.niagaraparksnature.com/

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

14 record(s) found.

Reports on the Progress of Recovery Document Implementation

COSEWIC Status Reports

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - American Water-willow (2022-01-10)

    This aquatic wildflower of lake and river shorelines occurs at 13 sites in southern Ontario and southwestern Quebec. Although still locally numerous, its numbers have declined significantly in the past 10 years, driven by large losses from the Rivière des Mille Îles in Quebec. Declines are mostly attributable to unnaturally severe or prolonged water level fluctuations caused by water level management and climate change. Invasive species such as European Reed and Blue Cattail are likely to contribute to future population declines.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the American Water-willow (Justicia americana) in Canada (2011-03-28)

    In May 2000, the American Water-willow (Justicia americana) was determined to be a Threatened species in Canada by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). It was added to Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act in June 2003 by the Minister of the Environment upon recommendation from COSEWIC. The range of this species is confined to eastern North America, with its northern limit in Canada being restricted to southern Quebec and southern Ontario. The first version of this recovery strategy was originally posted in 2011. The current version posted here has been amended, as per Section 45 of the Act, from the first version, to include some additional language regarding Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (2016-07-05)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Point Pelee National Park of Canada and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada applies to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of the two sites: Point Pelee National Park of Canada (PPNP) and the Niagara National Historic Sites of Canada (NNHS). The NNHS is being used as a term to collectively refer to two locations in the Niagara region that consist of three National Historic Sites: Fort George National Historic Site, Battlefield of Fort George National Historic Site, and Butler’s Barracks National Historic Sites of Canada. The plan meets the requirements for action plans set out in the Species At Risk Act (SARA s.47) for species requiring an action plan and that regularly occur in these sites. Measures described in this plan will also provide benefits for other species of conservation concern that regularly occur at PPNP and at NNHS.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada (2016-03-29)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada is a Species At Risk Act action plan (SARA s.47) for four species: American Water-willow (Justicia americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 30 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park of Canada.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report 2020 to 2021 (2021-10-12)

    Over the past year COSEWIC assessed a total of 66 wildlife species, of which 4 were assigned a status of Not at Risk. Of these 66, COSEWIC re-examined the status of 41 wildlife species; of these, 80% were reassessed at the same or lower level of risk. To date and with the submission of this report, COSEWIC’s assessments now include 826 wildlife species in various risk categories including 369 Endangered, 196 Threatened, 239 Special Concern, and 22 Extirpated (i.e. no longer found in the wild in Canada). In addition, 19 wildlife species have been assessed as Extinct, 62 wildlife species have been designated as Data Deficient, and 202 have been assessed as Not at Risk.

Permits and Related Agreements

  • Explanation for issuing permit(#13), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2006-05-01)

    Fauna and flora survey and identification of potential habitats for species at risk on the territory of Kahnawake.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PP-2013-14338 & PP-2014-15697), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2013-06-06)

    In 2013 and 2014, pollination biology studies will be carried out on American Water-willow (AWW), including breeding system and/or pollinator observation trials in Point Pelee National Park (PPNP). For the plant breeding systems trials, different methods of reproduction will be checked: asexual, automatic and facilitated self-pollination, and cross-pollination. This is done by applying temporary tags to and small bags over, flower buds before opening, and preparing them for the appropriate treatment. Stamens are removed from flowers in the asexual and cross-pollination treatments before pollen is released to ensure only the targeted pollen can reach the stigma. When the stigmas are receptive, pollen will be transferred by removing anthers from the donor flowers and brushing them across the stigmas of the receiving flower; in the case of self-pollination, the anthers will not be removed but will be brushed over top of the stigma(s) of the same flower. When the stigmas are no longer receptive, the bags will be removed, and the flower monitored for fruit set. If fruits are produced, they will be collected and evaluated for seed set. If feasible the seeds will be counted and assessed in the field, and the seeds immediately scattered amongst the PPNP AWW population. If it is not feasible in-field, then the seeds may be collected for counting/assessment in the lab, and will be later returned to the park to be scattered amongst the AWW population. Minimal numbers of flowers will be used; the number of flowers and plants in a population will affect this number. For instance, in a standard non-SAR situation, 6 treatments with 5-10 flowers each would be used at each site. The exact numbers of treatments and flowers will be adjusted based on the number of AWW sites being studied, the numbers of plants in each population, numbers of flowers, etc. Regardless, no more than 10% of the available AWW flowers in the PPNP population will be used for the research. Pollinator observations will occur through the use of visual observations and/or sweep netting of visitors to the flowers. Insects that cannot be identified "on the wing" will be temporarily collected in clear vials for closer observation and/or photographs, and then released. These observations will occur on fair-weather days (at least partial sun, low wind, no rain) when the flowers are open and insects are active. Depending on the activity level of the flower visitors, and the size of the plant population, transects will be accessed by canoe through the population and/or several flowers may be monitored more closely. There may be some temporary impact on plants involved in breeding system trials as flowers will be manipulated in such a fashion that overall fruit and seed set may be reduced as a result of some treatments (e.g. if a plant requires cross-pollination, the flowers involved in self-pollination treatments would not set seed as pollinators will be prevented from visiting).
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PP-2018-30397), persuant to the provisions of section 74 of SARA (2018-10-10)

    The activity involves sampling the upper part of the stems of 20 American Water Willow plants for genetic testing to determine the variability in the known Canadian populations. This genetic study is part of a larger project to explore translocation as a conservation and recovery action for the species.
  • Explanation for issuing permit(#PPNP-2019-10), persuant to the provisions of section 73 of SARA (2021-07-15)

    The objective of the Open Marsh, Healthy Marsh Partnership conservation restoration project in Point Pelee National Park (PPNP) is to restore the heterogeneity of open water and edge habitats in sections of the interior of the marsh within the park. This will include the creation of channels and ponds with machinery (aquatic vegetation cutter and aquatic weed harvester) through invasive floating cattail mats (Typha angustifolia and Typha x glauca) as well as targeted removal of Phragmites australis australis (hereafter known as Phragmites) on both the shoreline (use of hand tools and herbicide) and floating cattail mats (use of amphibious cutter). Blanding's Turtle individuals are at risk of interacting with machinery (aquatic vegetation cutter, amphibious cutter, and aquatic weed harvester) or being captured for safe relocation during initial creation of channels and ponds (entry points to management area channels/ ponds, approximating 11 m2 maximum in width). Similar projects in other marshes using similar equipment indicate that the number of Blanding's Turtles likely to be caught or harmed during this project will be minimal. Some breaking of American Water-willow stems is expected when removing Phragmites stems from American water-willow patches but with mitigations, the number of individuals impacted is expected to be minimal. This project will restore degraded marsh habitat by increasing open water interspersion and managing invasive plant species thereby creating more suitable habitat for native fauna, including Blanding's Turtles and American Water-willow.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act: Terrestrial Species January 2022 (2022-01-10)

    The Government of Canada is committed to preventing the disappearance of wildlife species at risk from our lands. As part of its strategy for realizing that commitment, on June 5, 2003, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species provided for under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Extirpated, Endangered and Threatened species on Schedule 1 benefit from the protection afforded by the prohibitions and from recovery planning requirements under SARA. Special Concern species benefit from its management planning requirements. Schedule 1 has grown from the original 233 to 640 wildlife species at risk. Please submit your comments by May 10, 2022, for terrestrial species undergoing normal consultations and by October 10, 2022, for terrestrial species undergoing extended consultations. For a description of the consultation paths these species will undergo, please visit the Species at Risk (SAR) Public Registry website at: The Minister of the Environment's Response to Species at Risk Assessments.

Critical Habitat Descriptions in the Canada Gazette

  • Description of critical habitat of American Water-willow in Point Pelee National Park of Canada (2011-06-25)

    American Water-willow (Justicia americana) is a species listed on Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act as threatened. American Water-willow is an aquatic plant that occurs at one site within Point Pelee National Park of Canada. Critical habitat for American Water-willow is identified within the final Recovery Strategy for the American Water-willow (Justicia americana) in Canada.
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