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Fireweed (Chamerion augustifolium)

If you have ever hiked into a year-old burn, you most likely know what fireweed looks like. The appearance of its tall, pink flowers covering the recently blackened slopes is as reliable as the appearance of morel mushrooms.

Fireweed, Chamerion augustifolium, is in the Evening Primrose Family. Its skinny seedpods produce thousands of fluffy seeds, but its most effective means of spreading is through its persistent underground rhizomes. The good news is that if fireweed gets established in your vegetable garden you can eat it! It's rich in vitamins A and C. All above-ground parts can be eaten raw or cooked. Be careful. It is a laxative!

Medicinally, fireweed is an anti-inflammatory and some species are used for cancer treatment. Its stems can be used for cordage and the fluff for tinder. It's also an important wildlife food and provides plentiful pollen for many insect species.

Not bad for a plant that will grow without any effort on your part!

Fireweed is native to and circumboreal in the Northern Hemisphere. After colonizing damaged land, such as clearcuts, recent burns and roadsides other species soon shade it out. However, its seeds remain viable in the ground for years, ready to recolonize after another disturbance.

Fireweed bloomed hope for London after it was bombed during World War II. It earned the name bombweed throughout Europe because of how quickly it colonized bomb craters.

The Athabaskan people in Interior Alaska use fireweed to predict when the snows will come. Fireweed blooms progressively from the bottom of its spiky cluster to the top. Once the highest flowers bloom it will be six weeks until the first snow sticks to the ground. According to my source, this prediction method is very accurate. Try it and see!

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