Rich But Hard To Live With

Extensive roots (creeping rhizomes) successfully anchor whole colonies of American water-willow (Justicia americana) at the edge of swift-moving waters in the eastern United States.
Photographer: Ken-ichi Ueda
Some of the most nutrient-rich soils are found on floodplains of streams. But not all nutrient-demanding plants live there. Why not?

Floodplains are challenging to survive on!

Although floods replenish soil nutrients, they also create regular disturbance, so only plants that can tolerate repeated inundation, soil saturation, and flood damage occupy the margins of streams. Green ash trees, for instance, have incredibly wide-spreading roots1 that enable them to maintain a hold in this environment. Small plants that thrive in these floodplain soils must also be either extremely well-rooted, or able to grow fast enough to mature and produce seed between floods in which they are often flattened, buried by debris, or swept away.

Interested in learning more about floodplain communities? Explore the Tuliptree Small-Stream Floodplain Forest.