January Botanical Term: Riparian

I want to start doing shorter posts once a month that describe different botanical terms and nomenclatures.

To start this off I want to help define the word: RIPARIAN

The definition from Oxford Languages states:




  1. relating to or situated on the banks of a river. “all the riparian states must sign an agreement”


2. relating to wetlands adjacent to rivers and streams. “the ranch’s most expansive riparian habitat”

Riparian Populus fremontii trees that have been decimated by lack of water for only one season. Notice the Juniper and Pine trees growing in the same area, relatively unscathed.

I write a lot about riparian species on my blog, Most often Cottonwoods (Populus fremontii) as they are super common trees in my area. Sadly though, they really only thrive in spots where they have near unlimited access to water, like near a riverbank. I live in a high desert, however, and they really only thrive for the first few years of their lives if not planted near a river or other water source. After that, its year after year of broken branches, insect attack, epicormic growth and a downward spiral until the tree is dead.

A large Willow Tree that died due to lack of water. Without a river system nearby it can be nearly impossible to keep this species alive long term. Though the tree looks large it had a lot more growing to do. This tree was only ~26 years old. Willow trees have been known to exceed 50 years of age in the right conditions.

Riparian trees and plants don’t grow when fully submerged in the water, riparian is not the same as aquatic. Unlike aquatic plants, riparian plants will drown if fully submerged for any length of time. The roots are often found very close, if not exposed on the surface for maximum oxygen collection, other roots grow deep into the soils to tap into the water column, hence the unlimited water aspect aforementioned earlier.

Some other groups of riparian plants are Willows, Dogwoods, some Maples, Columbines, Serviceberry, Alders, Birch, Aspens and Choke Cherries. Of course there are outliers for each species, and there are many more I have not mentioned.

This January keep and eye out for riparian plants in your area!


Author: garesgarden

ISA Certified Arborist, Amateur Botanist, and future Agricultural Engineer.

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