What is Fireweed?

Fireweed is a plant that grows natively throughout the northern hemisphere in temperate areas, including the boreal forest. Its name comes from the fact that it is one of the first species to come into an area affected by a forest fire. In Alaska, Fireweed blooms purportedly predict the first snow.

Key Takeaways

  1. Fireweed is a common flowering plant in Alaska and across the northern hemisphere.
  2. It grows in areas affected by forest fires – hence the name – but also along roadsides across The Last Frontier.
  3. An old Alaskan urban legend says that when the fireweed finishes blooming, the first snow is six weeks away.

Understanding Fireweed

Fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium, is a perennial plant that grows across the northern hemisphere, including prolifically in Alaska. It is instantly recognizable for the spire of bright magenta flowers that bloom in succession from bottom to top as the summer season comes to an end.

You can see fireweed across Alaska, and it’s easy to spot along the roadsides. The species grows well in the taiga or boreal forest, which covers parts of the state. It also grows in places affected by wildfires, hence the name. It is one of the first “colonizer” plants to move into a burned area and helps the soil begin rebalancing and neutralizing.

In Alaska, fireweed is purportedly a harbinger of the first snow. It begins blooming in late summer, and by the time the blooms at the top have begun to wilt, old Sourdoughs say that the first snow is less than six weeks away. many modern Alaskans say that this isn’t accurate and discourages late-season tourism – but as you already know, autumn is a great time to visit!

You may hear it also called great or rosebay willowherb in countries like Canada, Ireland, and the U.K. It was traditionally called Saint Anthony’s Laurel.

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