Fireweed. Get rid of it, burn it, the thing’s a weed. Fireweed springs up on waste ground and spreads like wildfire. ‘Weed’: we name it unwelcome, unfit for horticulture, rubbish. Time to rebrand it, I say. Rosebay willowherb. A flower of rose-purple, the plant tall and stately as willow, its slender fruit-capsule splitting to reveal fluffy white seeds to be borne away on the wind. Willowherb: herbs are precious, flavoursome and medicinal. No stopping to admire it on the motorway embankments it adorns as flower and seed-head. Not rare, but worth a closer look.
Fireweed, flowering in the wake of devastation, of war damage and conflagration. That’s the origin of its name. All summer, the highways show its flowers in a glory of magenta. And in autumn rosebay willow herb becomes fireweed, banks of flame. Sunlight is wayward , uncertain when or where it might fall. But let light infuse those banks of rosebay willow herb and they are breathtaking.
Rosebay willowherb makes a splash of colour with its summer flowers, its autumn leaves. I like those long seed-capsules that split open to reveal its seed, dehiscent- splitting open. Seeds in a parachute of fluffy white, airborne, if the wind finds them before rain makes them bedraggled and sodden. Dehiscent seed-capsules, willowherb and broom, split in rather fetching design, I feel. En route for Great Asby Fell, I marvel at the effect of sunlight through willowherb. The Victorians valued the plant as a garden flower, apparently. Good for them.
Jan Wiltshire is a nature writer living in Cumbria. She also explores islands and coast and the wildlife experience. (See Home and My Books.)