Every yard, garden, park, and roadside in the Northwest should have a little patch of this iconic and beautiful plant.
There's much that could be said about humble yet glorious fireweed. The classic colonizer of wildfire scarred landscapes (hence the name), recently logged and clear cut forests, and roadside ditches. Fireweed functions as nature's response to trauma. From the tiniest of seeds, this majestic plant can form rhizomatous colonies, with plant stems many feet in height, crowned by brilliantly magenta flowers.
The nectar of those flowers produces what is widely considered to be some of the best single varietal honey in the world. The flower petals and leaves are dried and fermented in Russia and Slavic countries to produce the famous ivanchai tea. Vitamin-rich young shoots have been used as a cooked vegetable by people on multiple continents for centuries. And, the strong stems can be processed into tough cordage.
Deer occasionally browse fireweed (especially young shoots), but bears are some of the most voracious consumers of shoots and flowers in wilderness areas. Numerous bumble bees are attracted to the showy flowers including the now rare and imperiled Western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis), and it is the caterpillar host plant for the interesting wasp-mimicking fireweed clearwing moth (Albuna pyramidalis).
This excellent plant thrives in full sun to slight shade, and prefers damp, peaty soils. Fireweed has an unfair reputation for being an aggressive colonizer. Yet, once established, it is easy to trim back if it encroaches beyond its desired space. And, because it can form robust colonies, it has some potential to help suppress noxious weeds such as blackberry and scotch broom seedlings. We allow this plant to grow in our farm hedgerows, where it intermixes with Nootka rose, snowberry, and spirea, forming a beautiful and functional screen and wildlife corridor.
Approximately 1,500 - 2,000 very tiny seeds (0.1gram).