by Charlene Burgi
While driving through the Barriere region north of Kamloops in British Columbia a few weeks ago, it was difficult not to notice large stands of vibrant pink flowers towering in areas void of most other vegetation. These beauties appeared in land that had been ravaged by fire in 2003. They continued to catch my eye as we traversed up the mountain to the lodge where we stayed for our fishing expedition.
I made a mental note to ask my friends and traveling companions, who live in the B.C. area, what the name of the captivating flower might be. They both spouted it was fireweed, whereupon this plant geek asked for a botanical name. My friend Rick, being a fish geek (actually with a doctorate in oceanography) quickly responded with jargon that I am now certain was the Latin name for some fish found in Micronesia or other foreign waters.
| Fireweed at the lake
(Photo by Dr. Rick Tegeler)
As we fished and hiked, this botanical wonder continued to present itself. Sometimes we would spot it along the lakeside, and other times in desolate arid regions. We even found a flowering plant atop the bluff that my grandson Tim and I climbed one day, exceeding an elevation of 5,000 feet. The plant grew in sunny areas as well as shady spots, in wet and dry locations, and in rocky soil as well as the rich humus of the forest floor. It did not conform to traditional growing conditions that I could mentally key.
The remote location of the lodge left me without internet service and a longing to know more—specifically, the real name of this plant. Upon my return to civilization, I immediately looked it up. My friends also sent links confirming they had not made up this name and provided some history of the plant for me as well. The name I had been seeking is Chamerion angustifolium
, a.k.a. fireweed.
| Fireweed on the bluff
It is known by that common name as it tends to move into an area destroyed by fire. This perennial grows easily from seed and surprisingly is part of the evening primrose family. As noted, it is tolerant of many conditions. The leaves are high in vitamins A and C and therefore used to make teas, jams, jellies, and zesty honey. In the fall, the plant produces a fluffy filament containing a vast number of seeds that are scattered throughout the area. Native Americans once collected this fluffy material to weave into fiber.
As I learned more about fireweed, my concern was that it might be classified as invasive. A visit to the California Invasive Plant Council website
confirmed it is not listed as such, although further research suggested it is prudent to keep an eye on it in the garden.
Current news of yet another fire in Lake County reminded me of the devastation of losing our cabin in the mountains there last September. We plan to rebuild, and rebuilding for me includes seeing new growth. Might this be a spot of sunshine now void of plants? Perhaps my granddaughters might venture into brewing some fireweed tea? It seems to be a nice water-conserving plant among other wonderful traits! Why not?