Northland Nature: Fireweed grows in fires' aftermath
The end of July usually makes us sit up and take notice that the summer is moving on. We still have plenty of days left in this warm season, but we're already halfway through. Earlier sunsets, along with a later sunrise time, start to become more...
The end of July usually makes us sit up and take notice that the summer is moving on. We still have plenty of days left in this warm season, but we’re already halfway through. Earlier sunsets, along with a later sunrise time, start to become more noticeable now. A few early migrants are gathering. And, in the garden, the first produce of the season can be picked.
It is among the summer flowers that we can see these changes almost as though they are keeping track of the days for us.
Each day in our yards a new group of day lilies open, glow throughout the day and fade in the evening. Their one day of glamour does not go without notice and, being in large groups, they add much to the hot days.
Out along the roadsides, we see more. Milkweeds and dogbanes proliferate all during this month. They are joined by jewelweeds, joe pye weeds, yarrows, cow parsnip, water-hemlocks and the night-flowering evening primroses. Here, too, are early sunflowers, coneflowers, goldenrods and maybe a few asters. Plenty of white water lilies dot the shallow waters of lakes, too. All speak to us of the passing seasons and each day they open new blossoms or form seeds. Bees, moths and butterflies continue to visit these colorful bouquets of midsummer.
Growing up to 6 feet tall with a long spike of purple flowers at the top, it is hard to not notice the Fireweed plant.
Added to this is the fact that they grow in groups of anywhere from to 10 to hundreds of plants. Individual flowers at the top are a light to dark purple.
Petals are rounded and four in number. Simple leaves stick out from the main stalk and may look like those of willows.
Fireweed gets its name from its ability to grow in disturbed areas. This may be a site opened up due to a forest fire, but can also be a cleared area because of many other happenings.
Quick to grab the available sunlight, plants do fine along fields, woods edges and roadsides, where we frequently see them.
Blossoms open at the base of their top growths called a spike. And, as the days of July go by, the flowers open higher and higher on this spike until the final ones, those at the very top, open.
Earlier blooming individuals get pollinated and start to form long seed pods. Many of these lower pods are developed before the buds on the top of the spike are even open.
Eventually, late in the season, they all bloom and make seed pods. Such pods curl and open to reveal fluffy, wind-blown seeds in the fall. The autumn plant looks much different than what we now see.
Fireweed is a great plant to watch the season pass, and anyone observing this flower each day will see new buds opening. Each day brings a different number of those with flowers.
Perhaps a better name for this purple flower of summer would be “calendar plant” since it keeps track of the days of midsummer so well.
Larry Weber is author of the “Backyard Almanac.” He lives in Carlton County and teaches natural science at Duluth’s Marshall School.