In Bloom: Fireweed

 Fireweed. Anne Holmes, illustrator

Fireweed. Anne Holmes, illustrator

By Suzanne Wodek

Chamerion angustifolium was originally known by Epilobium angustifolium, but was transferred from Epilobium to Chamerion because of certain major differences: the absence of a floral tube, the flower shape, and its leaf arrangement. The genus name comes from the Greek words chamai meaning ‘dwarf’ and nerion meaning ‘oleander’ in reference to the resemblance of plant leaves to those of oleander. It’s commonly called fireweed because after a forest fire it’s usually one of the first plants to sprout in burned areas. It is the host plant for caterpillars of dozens of Lepidoptera species. Bees also love fireweed.

This native perennial wildflower grows 2’-5’ tall on upright, reddish, woody stems topped with saucer- shaped, four-petaled, bright pink to lilac-purple flowers. Flowers bloom from bottom to top. The summer blooms are spectacular and you can’t beat the red fall color of the leaves. A few years ago, I witnessed this beauty in Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska. The contrast of the yellow cottonwoods and aspens with an understory of red fireweed was breathtaking.

Site this plant in organically rich, well- drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Promptly remove spent flower stems to encourage additional bloom and to prevent unwanted self-seeding. This plant spreads by both rhizomes and self- seeding. The seeds have silky hairs which facilitate easy dispersal by the wind. Thus, it can be both persistent and aggressive in your garden. Fireweed is a hermaphrodite, having both male and female organs on the same plant.

Almost every part of this plant is useful. Leaves and young shoots, raw or cooked, are a good source of vitamins A and C. The flower buds make a colorful addition to salads. The fresh juice of fireweed was used by Native Americans to soothe skin irritations and burns.

Today we have discovered the usefulness of fireweed as medicine. It is also utilized in a variety of topical products; creams, lotions, after-sun products and baby- care products.

Upcoming Events at the Botanical Gardens

The Language of Science

Sunday, July 7, 9–11:30 a.m.

Garden manager, horticulture chairman and self-taught naturalist and nature photographer Jay Kranyik has been with the Gardens since 1999. He has botanized widely in the region and is co-author of The Flora of DuPont State Forest, NC. On this walk through the gardens, we’ll explore and demystify scientific nomenclature in a manner that is entertaining and empowering for those seeking a closer relationship with the natural world. Rain or shine. Bring rain gear or umbrella. Limited to 24 participants

Gardening on Slopes

Sunday, July 28, 2–4 p.m.

In this class, remedies will be reviewed for preventing and correcting eroding slopes. We will look at how to measure and assess slopes, discuss useful plants and how to plant them, and review some methods for slope stabilization. We will also look at indicators that suggest the need for professional engineering and construction interventions.

Nina Shippen practices residential landscape and garden design through her company Gardeniña. A graduate of the landscape design program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies, she has lived and gardened in Transylvania County since 2005.

Participants must pre-register and pre-pay for these events by calling 828-252-5190. Cost for each is $15 for BGA members, $20 for non-members.

The Botanical Gardens, located at 151 W.T. Weaver Boulevard, is a nonprofit organization. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated and memberships are encouraged. Learn more at AshevilleBotanicalGardens.org.

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