|Fireweed in a wide open field|
Fireweeds are species of flowering plants that get their name from the fact that they are one of the first plants to start growing in an area that has been burned or disturbed. Its ability to colonizes easily and survive during a fire is due to rhizomes (underground stems). The rhizome extends to about 2 inches into the ground, and enabling the plant to during an intense fire and sprout after. The fireweed is one of the most abundant colonizers on Mt. St. Helens and a good example of adaption. The eruption provided the perfect chance for the fireweed to become dominant. If more weeds and plants start to colonize Mt. St. Helens' slopes, the fireweed might start to disappear. Its flowers are very beautiful to look at, and attracts hummingbirds and bees, although it has a ragged appearance after its blooming period. Some types of fireweed have little hairs on the stems, and some don't. The fireweed provides nectar and food to some animals, and healing properties to humans.
The fireweed is a tall erect perennial that grows from rhizome-like roots. It's stems are usually unbranched, and it can grow from 30cm. up to 2 or even 3 metres tall. Its leaves are 5 to 15 cm. in length, and taper at the base with a narrow lance shape. The leaves alternate around the stem, and have veins on the underside. They are pale and purplish in color and are crowded densely around the stem. The flower has 4 sepals, and 4 petals. It has 8 stamens and 4 internal ovaries. Its flowers are in a long dense spike, with around four petals. The lowest flowers open first, and the individual flowers are about 2 cm. across which is large. The flowers appear in the later stages of summer. Its fruit are long and narrow, growing up to around 7 cm. in length. The pod is colored, and it opens to release numerous silky-haired seeds which ripen late in the summer.
Reproduction. So the fireweed has both vegetative and sexual reproduction even though vegetative reproduction is more prevalent than sexual reproduction. The fireweed is grown as an ornamental, but it can become a very aggressive weed. The fireweed's fruit opens to reveal silky thread seeds that become dispersed throughout large areas when the wind blows or other natural occurrences happen. Each fruit has 300 to 500 seeds, and each seed has a tuft of long hairs on one of the ends. The sprouts from rhizomes are capable of rapid growth, and may be able to bloom within one month. The rhizomes are capable of fragmentation to speed up sprout production. Sexually the fireweed is capable of self-crossing or outcrossing. It is pollinated primarily by insects, and a single plant may be able to produce up to 80,000 seeds per year. The seeds germinate over different temperatures and are non-dormant. Some seeds germinate within ten days, and the seeds loose viability after 18-24 months. The flower withers away and is replaced by a long, narrow seed pod in the late summer.
The fireweed is usually found in solitary spots or scattered in forest habitats. It is found in upland pine and spruce stands, and is often common in cleared areas or areas where burning has occured. It is even said to have been one of the first plants to appear in some bomb sites during the London Blitz or World War 2. This plant is also found in acidic soils in open fields and in chalky ground. The fireweed occurs all throughout the U.S. except in some southeastern states and Texas. It is however most abundant along the outer coast of the Pacific Northwest. It is present in Canada, and also throughout Eurasia. The fireweed is the national flower of Russia. The fireweed likes moist to dry ground, and thrives best in full sun but can tolerate partial shade. It is said to bloom from July to September. The fireweed occupation of forests declines with the rise of other competing plants and weeds. Also humans have a negative effect on the fireweed because it has a low tolerance to trampling.
Uses of the Fireweed
The fireweed's stems have been used for thread or fibre, and the young shoots have been eaten as a nutritious vegetable. The young shoots are high in vitamins A and C, and they have been known to colonize areas that have been burned or disturbed. The people of the Coast Salish used the seed fluff for weaving and padding because of its soft texture. Some of the early Indians are the central pith of the fireweed stems in the early spring. Many people used it as a green potherb, and its leaves can be used for tea. The flowers of the fireweed produce ample nectar, and can make an excellent honey(Pojar, Mackinnon, p.206). The fireweed is eaten by hares, muskrats, moose, and white-tailed deer. Small mammals like chipmunks eat the seeds, and it is a nectar source for hummingbirds. You can also buy it through mail order, or at a store, to plant as decoration.
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- Pojar, Jim, and Andy Mackinnon. Plants of The Pacific Northwest Coast. Vancouver, B.C.: Lone Pine Publishing, 1994.
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