Fireweed near the Blunt in Smithers. (Jim Pojar photo)

Fireweed near the Blunt in Smithers. (Jim Pojar photo)

Nature Nut

Fireweed doing well

While it is mostly past its best down in the valley bottom, fireweed is in superb condition up in the subalpine meadows and upper cutblocks. It seems healthier and more brilliantly coloured than it usually is which makes us wonder if it has something to do with the weather we have been experiencing.

Fireweed likes open spaces and tends to dominate open meadows, roadsides, cut blocks after logging, especially in areas that have been burned. All these habitats have one thing in common – they are open and get lots of sun.

While it is tempting to think that the seeds of fireweed are stimulated by fire like the seeds of lodgepole pine are, that is not the case with fireweed. The plants ‘come back’ primarily from rhizomes that have waited patiently underneath the ground until the overtopping vegetation is removed, and the sun can reach the ground. It also colonizes open areas via its hairy, wind-blown seeds.

Fireweed likes sun, but not excessive heat. Also, it cannot tolerate prolonged drought and so it is found more commonly in northern areas. Perhaps fireweed is doing so well in the subalpine this year in the warmed-up soils as it soaks up the abundant sunshine we have been getting.

Fireweed was and is traditionally an important plant for Indigenous people. When very young the shoots can be eaten by pulling them through the teeth to extract the soft inner tissues. They were much sought after for their fresh, juiciness after a long winter of subsisting on dried foods.

It does not take long for the stems to become quite fibrous and too tough to eat, but the fibres of mature plants were twisted into a twine used for making fishing nets. The fluffy seeds were also used as padding in the bottom of baby carriers and as stuffing for pillows and bedding. The flowers produce lots of nectar which bees use to make great honey.