AppearanceThe reddish stems of this herbaceous perennial are usually simple, erect, smooth, 0.5–2.5 m high with scattered alternate leaves. The leaves are spirally arranged, entire, narrowly lanceolate, and pinnately veined, the secondary leaf veins anastomosing, joining together to form a continuous marginal vein just inside the leaf margins.:NQ
The inflorescence is a symmetrical terminal raceme that blooms progressively from bottom to top, producing a gracefully tapered shape. The flowers are 2 to 3 cm in diameter, slightly asymmetrical, with four magenta to pink petals and four narrower pink sepals behind. The protruding style has four stigmas. The floral formula is ✶/↓ K4 C4 A4+4 or 4+0 Ğ.
The upright, reddish-brown linear seed capsule splits from the apex and curls open. It bears many minute brown seeds, about 300 to 400 per capsule and 80,000 per plant. The seeds have silky hairs to aid wind dispersal and are very easily spread by the wind, often becoming a weed and a dominant species on disturbed ground. Once established, the plants also spread extensively by underground roots, an individual plant eventually forming a large patch.
NamingThe specific epithet ''angustifolium'' is constructed from the Latin words ''angustus'' meaning 'narrow' and ''folium'' meaning 'leaved' or 'leaf'. It shares this name with other species of plant including ''Vaccinium angustifolium''. The common British name, from the passing resemblance of the flowers to roses and the leaves to those of bay, goes back in print to Gerard's ''Herball'' of 1597. The common name 'fireweed' derives from the species' abundance as a coloniser on burnt sites after forest fires.
HabitatFireweed is often abundant in wet calcareous to slightly acidic soils in open fields, pastures, and particularly burned-over lands. It is a pioneer species that quickly colonizes open areas with little competition, such as the sites of forest fires and forest clearings. Plants grow and flower as long as there is open space and plenty of light. Fireweed reaches its average peak colonization after 5 years and then begins to be replaced as trees and brush grow larger. 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.
Fireweed is an effective colonizer; it may not be present until after a fire has moved through a landscape. Because of its very high dispersal capacity, "propagule pressure" from its regional presence will let it quickly colonize a disturbed area. Once seedlings are established, the plant quickly reproduces and covers the disturbed area via seeds and rhizomes. It is somewhat adapted to fire as well and so can prevent the reintroduction of fire to the landscape. Fireweed is well adapted to seed in severely burned areas as well, because the mineral soil that is exposed due to the removal of organic soil layers provides a good seedbed.
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 abundance 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.
UsesThe very young shoots and leaves can be cooked and eaten.
Traditionally the young shoots are collected in the spring by Native American and Siberian 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'ina add 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. The stem centers can also be prepared by splitting the outer stalk, and eaten raw.
In Russia, fireweed is made into a tea known as Ivan Chai. They use it as highly prized medicinal herb too.
In the Yukon, the flowers from fireweed are made into jelly.
Fireweed's natural variation in ploidy has prompted its use in scientific studies of polyploidy's possible effects on adaptive potential and species diversification.
Because fireweed can colonize disturbed sites, even following an old oil spill, it is often used to reestablish vegetation.
It is also grown as an ornamental plant. A white form, ''C. angustolium'' 'Album' is listed by the Royal Horticultural Society
CulturalFireweed is the floral emblem of Yukon.
In The Fellowship of the Ring, J.R.R. Tolkien lists fireweed as one of the flowering plants returning to the site of a bonfire inside the Old Forest.
As the first plant to colonise waste ground, fireweed is often mentioned in postwar British literature. The children's novel ''Fireweed'' is set during the Blitz and features two runaway teenagers who meet on bomb sites where fireweed is growing profusely. Another children's novel, ''A Reflection of Rachel'' features a protagonist attempting to restore an old garden that used "Rose Pink Willow Herb" as an ornamental plant and mentions its notoriety for growing on abandoned bomb sites.. Cicely Mary Barker's 1948 book ''Flower Fairies of the Wayside'' included an illustration of 'The Rose-Bay Willow-Herb Fairy', with the accompanying verse "On the breeze my fluff is blown; So my airy seeds are sown. Where the earth is burnt and sad, I will come to make it glad. All forlorn and ruined places, All neglected empty spaces, I can cover—only think!— With a mass of rosy pink."
Rosebay Willowherb was subsequently voted the county flower of London in 2002 following a poll by the wild plant conservation charity Plantlife.
Some text fragments are auto parsed from Wikipedia.