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Showy fireweed makes stunning garden display

by KINNIKINNICK NATIVE PLANT SOCIETY
| September 19, 2021 1:00 AM

A showy North American native, from the coasts to sub-alpine regions, Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) thrives in disturbed sunny sites, along stream banks and at the forest edge. Its brilliant pink flowers grow in long spikes that bloom from June to September, depending on elevation.

A member of the Primrose family, Fireweed is aptly named. Its bright purple/pink flower plumes resemble flames. A tuft of silky hairs at the ends of each seed cause the bloomed-out flower spikes to look like wisps of smoke. (One plant can produce up to 80,000 seeds.) Lastly, Fireweed is one of the first plants to re-grow in burned or devastated landscapes, such as on Mt. St. Helens after its 1980 eruption.

Normally from 4 to 6 feet tall, Fireweed can reach 9 feet. It prefers moderate moisture and full sun, but tolerates partial shade well. In a garden, clumps of Fireweed make a stunning display and attract a variety of pollinators. They spread by seed and underground runners, and can be invasive if left unattended.

Native peoples used the the silky fibers from the seeds for weaving and padding; the leaves to make tea; and young shoots as a vitamin-rich vegetable. Honey from Fireweed nectar is flavorful and common in Alaska where Fireweed grows abundantly.

Check out Fireweed in the Dry Rock habitat at the North Idaho Native Plant Arboretum. Open to the public, parking for the Arboretum is at 611 S. Ella Ave. or on the street.

Fireweed is found on page 149 of the KNPS publication, "Landscaping with Native Plants in the Idaho Panhandle", available at local bookstores and the Bonner County History Museum.

Native Plant Notes are created by the Kinnikinnick Native Plant Society. To learn more about KNPS and the North Idaho Native Plant Arboretum, go online to nativeplantsociety.org.