Lovely, pink Fireweed was in full bloom this weekend at Glacier National Park….
We had a day and half of rainy weather (which didn’t slow us down much!) and a day and a half of blue skies to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary!!
Fireweed beside a sow grizzly.
The clouds rolling up the mountains…
In a burnt area overlooking the Saint Mary’s side of the park…
This herb is often abundant in wet calcareous to slightly acidic soils in open fields, pastures, and particularly burned-over lands; the name Fireweed derives from the species’ abundance as a coloniser on burnt sites after forest fires. Its tendency to quickly colonize open areas with little competition, such as sites of forest fires and forest clearings, makes it a clear example of apioneer species. Plants grow and flower as long as there is open space and plenty of light. As trees and brush grow larger the plants die out, but the seeds remain viable in the soil seed bank for many years; when a new fire or other disturbance occurs that opens up the ground to light again, the seeds germinate. Some areas with heavy seed counts in the soil can, after burning, be covered with pure dense stands of this species and when in flower the landscape is turned into fields of color.
In Britain the plant was considered a rare species in the 18th century, and one confined to a few locations with damp, gravelly soils. It was misidentified as Great Hairy Willowherb in contemporary floras. The plant’s rise from local rarity to widespread weed seems to have occurred at the same time as the expansion of the railway network, and the associated soil disturbance. The plant became locally known as bombweed due to its rapid colonization of bomb craters in the second world war.
The young shoots were often collected in the spring by Native American people and mixed with other greens. As the plant matures the leaves become tough and somewhat bitter. The southeast Native Americans use the stems in this stage. They are peeled and eaten raw. When properly prepared soon after picking they are a good source of vitamin C and pro-vitamin A. The Dena’inaadd fireweed to their dogs’ food. Fireweed is also a medicine of the Upper Inlet Dena’ina, who treat pus-filled boils or cuts by placing a piece of the raw stem on the afflicted area. This is said to draw the pus out of the cut or boil and prevents a cut with pus in it from healing over too quickly.
The root can be roasted after scraping off the outside, but often tastes bitter. To mitigate this, the root is collected before the plant flowers and the brown thread in the middle removed.
In Alaska, candies, syrups, jellies, and even ice cream are made from fireweed. Monofloral honey made primarily from fireweed nectar has a distinctive, spiced flavor.
In Russia, its leaves are used as tea substitute and were exported, known in Western Europe as Koporye Tea(Копорский чай). Fireweed leaves can undergo fermentation, much like real tea. Today, koporye tea is still occasionally consumed though not commercially important.
Chamerion angustifolium (Epilobium angustifolium) herb has been used in the traditional Austrian medicine internally as tea for treatment of disorders of the prostate, kidneys, and urinary tract.
Fireweed’s natural variation in ploidy has prompted its use in scientific studies of polyploidy’s possible effects on adaptive potential and species.
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