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Native Species Spotlight – Fireweed

Named for its propensity to grow following fires, Chamerion angustifolium, (previously Epilobium angustifolium), known more commonly in the U.S. as fireweed, is a perennial flowering forb in the evening primrose family (Onagraceae). It grows in the form of single leafy, often reddish, stems that can reach up to 9 feet tall. Small white hairs cover the top of the stems. The alternate leaves are green, lanceolate, often 2 to 8 inches long, with smooth margins and distinct veins on the underside. Fireweed blooms from June to September, and the typically magenta flowers (2 to 4 cm wide with 4 petals) grow in clusters at the apex of the stems. In late summer, fireweed seeds disperse on the wind thanks to the fluffy tuft of white hairs at their tip. Fireweed also forms rhizomes, or underground stems that produce new shoots and roots. This characteristic and the abundance of easily dispersed seeds are what makes it grow so well in disturbed sites such as burns, clearings, and roadsides.

Fireweed can be found in dry to moist sites throughout most of the United States, with its local widespread range extending to California and New Mexico in the southwest and North Carolina in the east. In Oregon, it is especially prevalent along the coast and mid-elevation in the Cascades.

As a late season bloomer, it is an important resource for many pollinators. Fireweed can also serve as a valuable food source for large grazers and small herbivores. Fireweed has been used in a variety of ways across the globe. Many Native-Americans and First Nations people ate the pith of the stems or boiled the stems whole. The stems were also peeled, dried, and twisted for use in fishing nets, while the fluffy seeds could be used with animal hair as padding or woven into garments. Fireweed has been used in teas in England and Russia, and some First Nations people used it to treat eczema.

By Amber Johnson, West Multnomah SWCD, Field & GIS Intern



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