Epilobium angustifolium (Fireweed)
When I first moved to Portland, several years ago, one of the things I really wanted to do was visit Mt. St. Helens. Growing up in the Midwest, I could hardly have imagine someday living in the shadow of a volcano...let alone one that was active! On the way up to the viewpoint, I kept noticing stands of intensely colored magenta flowers. What were they?!? I had never seen anthing quite like them. They weren't single and solid-looking as Foxglove...they seemed more diaphenous...and were clumping...not single stalks.
Of course, during that time, I was still looking for a job, so my obsession with these mystery plants was short-lived. Every time I'd venture out into the area outside of Portland, however, I'd see these flowers, again and again...taunting me!
Close-up of Epilobium flower
Finally, I started looking in earnest, and soon discovered that these must be Epilobium angustifolium, more commonly known as Fireweed (or, in England, Rosebay Willowherb). Named due to the fact that they are typically one of the first plants to re-appear after a fire or other natural disaster. In fact, they were one of the very first plants to emerge on the scarred and blasted hills and valleys around Mt. St. Helens.
Newly emerging foliage in early spring
Strangely, no one around the Portland area seemed to sell Epilobium. It seemed strange...here was a beautiful native plant, that was completely ignored by nurseries! It seemed odd that while I kept seeing native plants of dubious merits (drab) for sale all over, this colorful (and apparently easy-going) plant was no where to be found. Perhaps it was horribly invasive in a garden setting? Eventually, however, I found some last year at Bosky Dell Natives...which, if you're looking for natives, this is the place to go.
Epilobium with forming flower buds
I bought 3 tiny little plants...barely more than a few wispy twigs with a crown of needle-like leaves, and popped them in the ground. Then we got our first freeze. I hoped they would be ok...but wainted nervously as spring arrived and there was no sign of them. I needn't have worried...they popped up as soon as the days grew longer and grew with lightning speed!
Last month, they started forming flower buds, which gradually elongated and a few weeks ago, they started blooming...and what a show!
|Spike just before blooming||Blooms!|
The flowers are exactly what I remembered falling in love with...such bright, saturated color...but not garish or overwhelming. Indeed...they could almost be called subtle in comparison to most flowers you see for sale in nurseries. If not for their size, they could easily be overlooked. I find them as stately and lovely as Delphiniums, without the need for staking (although mine do tend to LEAN outward a bit).
Something I never realized while observing them in the wild is the branching along the main stem, which would seem to create even more bloom spikes...extending the show for even longer. The height for mine is topping out around 5.5-6', but I've seen them around town at least 7' tall (maybe even taller).
So there you have it...a totally beautiful PNW native! Is it invasive...only time will tell. I've read that it spreads by both rhizomes and seeds (I've seen warnings to avoid planting along waterways as it can spread aggressively). I'll keep an eye on it, to be sure, but for now, I'm just enjoying the show :-)