Chamaenerion angustifolium (Fireweed)

Plant Info
Also known as: Rosebay, Great Willowherb
Genus:Chamaenerion
Family:Onagraceae (Evening Primrose)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Habitat:part shade, sun; moist soil, woodland edges and clearings, along shores
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:3 to 7 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FAC MW: FAC NCNE: FAC
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals Cluster type: raceme

[photo of flowers] A spike-like cluster at the top of the stem and the ends of branching stems in the upper part of the plant. Flowers are about 1 inch across with 4 paddle-shaped pink to purplish petals alternating with 4 narrow darker sepals that are shorter than the petals, 8 long white stamens with purple to brownish tips, and a white style, longer than the stamens, divided and curled at the tip. Behind the flower is a long slender purplish ovary that resembles the short flower stalk. A cluster blooms from the bottom up, the buds typically angled downward, flowers facing outward, and ripening fruit angled up to nearly erect.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are 2 to 8 inches long, up to 2 inches wide, mostly toothless, somewhat wavy around the edges, tapering to a pointed tip, with a creamy white midrib and little or no leaf stalk.

[photo of spring leaves] Early spring leaves are very narrow with horizontal grooved veins that eventually smooth out. Stems are green or reddish and may be stiffly hairy in the upper plant.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a slender upright pod that turns purplish red as the seed ripens. When ripe, the pods split open at the tip end, peeling back like a banana peel, dispersing the small brown seed.

[photo of dispersed seed] Seed has a tuft of white hair to carry it off in the wind. When the seed is gone the remains of the pods turn brown.

Notes:

Fireweed was formerly known as Epilobium angustifolium or Chamerion angustifolium, and is now Chamaenerion angustifolium. It has often been confused with the invasive Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), which has opposite leaves and narrower, more cylindric flower clusters with 6-petaled flowers. There are 2 recognized subspecies of C. angustifolium: subsp. angustifolium is present in Canada and possibly Minnesota; subsp. circumvagum (formerly var. canescens) is the common species, generally a larger plant than subsp. angustifolium and more hairy, its leaves have distinct venation and a short stalk.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Itasca State Park and in Aitkin and Lake counties. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Aitkin, Cass and Itasca counties.

Comments

Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Eleanor - Grand Rapids
on: 2013-02-18 09:27:45

I've seen a profusion of fireweed in Southeast Alaska but was surprised to see it in Minnesota. I spotted a single plant in the brush beside a driveway up in Grand Rapids.

Posted by: Nancy - St Louis Co near Brookston
on: 2013-07-22 20:05:07

We stopped mowing a portion near our driveway. It turns out to have a LARGE colony of Fireweed. We are amazed at the height.

Posted by: Laura - Crow Wing, Paul Bunyan Trail and 371
on: 2014-09-09 14:21:09

There are quite a few large colonies of this plant along the Paul Bunyan trail on the side that faces 371 from Jenkins to Pine River. There are more along Hwy #15 and #1 along the ditches.

Posted by: Maggie - Duluth
on: 2015-07-28 23:01:48

So surprised! I only saw this in Alaska!

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2015-07-29 04:48:18

Maggie, if you look at the county distribution map you'll see it's actually pretty common in Minnesota.

Posted by: Jerry - Cascade River State Park
on: 2016-08-04 12:32:14

Seen on the hike between Campground and Cascade Lodge

Posted by: Sue B - South of Hastings along State Hightway 316
on: 2017-05-30 14:22:59

I see this is not listed as occurring in Dakota County but I'm pretty sure it's common along the sides of State Highway 316 south of Hastings.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-05-30 15:52:01

Sue B, what you see along the highways may not be fireweed, but purple loosestrife, which is often found in wet ditches as well as along lake and pond shores. You might need to see it more up close than from a car window to know for certain.

Posted by: Kenny h - East of rose creek on shooting star trail
on: 2017-07-09 15:51:56

Need to add mower county to the distribution map...have seen it in previous years...took photos today July 9...found it close to transmission power pole 80...I know what fireweed looks like.

Posted by: JRT - Cook County
on: 2017-09-04 11:29:36

A lot of fireweed grows along the North Shore of Lake Superior e.g. Lamb's Resort.

Posted by: Doreen Bower
on: 2019-03-21 20:08:35

It's a magnet in my garden for Japanese beetles so I've been removing it.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-03-21 20:48:40

Doreen, Japanese beetles are attracted to pretty much everything so removing your fireweed won't stop them. First they demolished our evening primrose and when that was gone they started going after everything else.

Posted by: Mary E Catherwood - Willmar
on: 2019-06-25 14:07:56

Someone just gave me some fireweed. Will it do ok in a shady, woodsy site?

Posted by: Cindy M
on: 2020-07-15 19:01:55

Traveling north on hwy 65 from north of Twin Cities to Upr Red Lake, saw tons of this along sides of the hwy, some pretty large patches. Beautiful!

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