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Lewis & Clark as Naturalists
The Journals Lewis and Clark as Naturalists

narrow leaf willow

This entry describes one of 30 specimens that were sent to President Jefferson from Fort Mandan and then logged into the Museum in Philadelphia on November 16, 1805, but subsequently lost.  We include this species as an example of the breadth of discovery and the explorers’ scholarship; attribution to this species is based upon Lewis’ description, early botanical work on the specimens, current botanical literature, and knowledge of the regional flora.

Capt. Lewis, June 14, 1804 - No 13.  The narrow leaf willow taken on the 14th of June.  this tree is male and female, the female bearing it[s] seed in a small pod (small ova form) of three lobes, or devisions   these pods are attatched to a stem which projects from the small boughs, and are from thirty to fifty in number,   about this season they begin to ripen, when the pods burst and a great number of small seeds each furnished with a parrishoot of a cottonlike substance are discharged from those eels.  they readily float in the air and are driven by the wind to a great distance, they are so abundant at some times as to be disagreeable to the traveller.   the male plant has a sucession of it's flowers, commencing to bloom about the 1st of June and continuing untill the 1st. of August, they are a small tausel of a half, or 3/4 of an inch in length, round, and tapering to the extremity, puting frort[h] from it's sides an infinite number of small stamens of a brown colour,  it's leaves are numerous narrow, slightly indented, of a yellowish green, on the uper side, and whiteish green underneath, pointed, being widest in the middle which rarely exceeds 1/8 th of an inch, it is smoth, tho' not glossey.

This tree is invariably the first which makes it's appearance on the newly made Lands on the borders of the Mississippi and Missouri, and seems to contribute much towards facilitating the operation of raisin [g1 this ground still higher;   they grow remarkably close and in some instances so much so that they form a thicket almost impenetrable   the points of land which are forming allways become eddies when over-flown in high water   these willows obstruct the force of the water and makes it more still which causes the mud and sand to be deposited in greater quantities;   the willow is not attal imbarrassed or injured by this inundation, but puts forth an innumerable quantity of small fibrous roots from every part of its trunk near the surface of the water which further serve to collect the mud,   if there happens not to be a sufficient quantity of mud depossited in the one season to cover the trunk of the willow as high as these capillery roots when the water subsides they fall down and rest on the trunk of the tree and conceal it for 18 or 20 Inches;   these capillery roots now perish and the willow puts forth other roots at the surface of the ground which enter it and furnish the tree with it's wanted nutriment this willow never rises to any considerable size, it is seldom seen larger than a mans arm, and scarcely ever rises higher than 25 feet.   the wood is white light and tough, and is generally used by the watermen for setting poles in preference to any thing else.  as the willow incre[a]ses in size and the land gets higher by the annu[a]l inundations of the river, the weeker plants decline dye and give place to the cottonwood which is it's ordinary successor, and these last in their turn also thin themselves as they become larger in a similar manner and leave the ground open for the admission of other forest trees and under brush.   these willow bars form a pleasant beacon to the navigator at that season when the banks of the river are tumbling in, as they [are] seldom high and rearly falling in but-on the contrary most usually increasing.

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