Common Fireweed – Chamaenerion angustifolium

Pink flowers of the fireweed plant blooming in Valdez, Alaska.

Common Fireweed

Chamaenerion angustifolium L. Holub
syn. angustifolium
Epilobium angustifolium (not accepted – ITIS)
Fireweed
Great willowherb
Rosebay willowherb

Genus: Chamaenerion
Family: Onagraceae (Primrose)
Order: Myrtales

Type: Perennial
Edible: Yes

Identification

Fireweed grows to be approximately 0.75 – 1.5 m (2.5 – 5 ft) tall. The pink flowers lie on a raceme and are symmetrically spaced on the reddish stem. The flowers bloom progressively from the bottom to the top over the summer months before going to the cotton-like seed stage, producing up to 80,000 seeds per plant. Each flower is symmetrical about the vertical axis, with the two largest (roundish) petals at the bottom, two smaller (roundish) petals at the top, and four narrow sepals behind. The leaves are long, narrow and spirally arranged around the stalk.

Habitat and Soils

Fireweed’s common name comes from the fact that it can revegetate quickly after forest fires. This is due to having deep roots that are well-insulated beneath soil from the heat of the fires. The plant typically lives in open meadows and at the edges of forests in well-draining soil.

Edible Uses

Young leaves and shoots are the most often consumed parts of the plant. They can either be cooked or eaten raw, often added to a salad. Fireweed flowers and leaves can be made into a tea and are popularly made into jelly (high in vitamins A and C). The root is not as popular for consumption as it tastes bitter (better before the plant flowers). In Alaska, beekeepers often operate near fields of fireweed to make fireweed honey.

Alaska Wildflowers

References

Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg 14
Chamerion angustifolium, ITIS Report
Fireweed, Edible Wild Food
Fireweed, U.S. Forest Service – Plant of the Week

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