Fireweed is a very beautiful plant which is found moist ground, shores, marshy places, floodplains, disturbed areas and fields.
The plant has a habit of colonizing recently burnt sites which is the origin of the common name.
The scientific name of the plant has changed at least three times. In Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide it is called Epilobium angustifolium which has the second common name of Great Willow Herb. There are several Epilobiums which grow in the Toronto area.
The ROM Field guide calls it Chamerion angustifolium. The most recent field guide Michigan Flora calls it Erichtites hieracifolius. Hieracifolius means with leaves like the Hawkweed plant.
Scientists are always looking for mistakes in the classification of plants and, apparently, Fireweed has been misclassified at least twice.
I am always happy to see Fireweed because I have never seen it in the Toronto area. It seems to start appearing as I travel north of Barrie. The photos in this article were take in Muskoka.
The flowers are pink (Newcomb’s calls them magenta) and have 4 petals and 8 stamens.
The plant has an erect stem and can be up to 2 meters tall.
The flowers grow on a terminal raceme which is up to 60 cm long.
The leaves are alternate, crowded and stalkless.
They are linear to lance-shaped and 15 – 20 cm long.
We blame the origin of many weedy plants such as Ragweed and Dandelion on the other parts of the world, but Fireweed is one of the few North American plants of weedy habit to have become naturalized in parts of Europe.
As long ago as in 1830, Raffinesque described Fireweed as useful in hemorrhage, wounds, headache, inflammations, herpes and diseases of the skin.