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[This information was originally produced by Beverly Skinner, wildlife biologist at Innoko
National Wildlife Refuge (in west central Alaska), for radio broadcast on Public Radio stations
There are certain plants that do very well in disturbed places such as roadsides,
riverbanks and recently burned areas. Epilobiumangustifolium, more
fireweed, is one of these invader type plants. Fireweed earned its name because the
plant can easily spread over an area in the years following a burn. It is a deep
rooted plant and although the above-ground part of the plant is burned during a fire,
it easily resprouts from the undamaged roots. Combine these deep roots with wind borne
fluffy seeds and the fireweed becomes an ideal invader plant.
Fireweed plants can grow up to 8 feet tall in some areas. They have showy 4 petal flowers
that can range from white to pale purple to the more common magenta color. The flowers are
on a long stalk with the lowest ones opening first. They can start to bloom in early
July and can continue blooming into August. When I first moved to McGrath, I was told that
when the last flower opens at the top of the stalk, summer in interior Alaska is officially
Fireweed isn't just another pretty flower, though. There are dozens of fireweed related
species and all of them, including the more common fireweed, are edible. In the spring the
red colored asparagus-like stalks are excellent either raw, steamed or stir fried. The
young tender leaves and unopened flower buds are a nice addition to any salad. As the
fireweed matures in the summer, the stem can be split and the sweet inner marrow can be
eaten. Fireweed jelly made from the flowers isn't just beautiful but is also very good
Fireweed also has many medicinal features. Fireweed tea can be used to help with an upset
stomach or constipation. Fireweed has also traditionally been used for asthma, coughs,
piles, and infected insect bites, as well as cuts and scratches. Even the seeds have been
found to have other uses. They make good fire starters and in the past have even been
mixed into wool for weaving blankets.
For Alaska Naturally and the Innoko National Wildlife Refuge, this is Beverly Skinner.
As with most plants,
fireweed has many different common names. What I call fireweed others might call blooming
sally, wild asparagus or willow weed due to the long willow like leaves. That is one
reason why scientists around the world use Latin genus and species names to describe
living things. Epilobiumangustifolium or fireweed is a strikingly
beautiful addition to interior Alaska during our short summers.
Note: This is the MapCruzin.com archive of the FWS Arctic National Wildlife Refuge website. In December, 2001 FWS took this website offline, making it unavailable to the public. It includes 90 plus pages of information and many maps. As of 2006 the important information contained in this, the original "unsanitized" version of the FWS website, has yet to return to the internet, so we will continue to maintain it here as a permanent archive to help inform activists and concerned citizens. If you find any broken links, please report them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will attempt to make the repairs. January, 2008 update - A small part of the original information that was present in 2001 has made it back into the current ANWR website. There is also an archive that contains a small amount of the original information, but it is not readily available from the main website.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas
development on the Arctic Refuge’s
coastal plain: Historical overview and
issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National
17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.html
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