If I had to vote for a single flower to represent Sea-to-Sky Country, I’d probably choose two. They’re relatives, both in the genus Epilobium (willowherb), and are sometimes overlooked just because of their sheer abundance.
Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium) is the stunning pink flower which is equally at home on a rocky seashore in Squamish or a blueberry-covered ski slope in Whistler. But it’s most beautiful when it bursts phoenix-like from the charred remains of a burnt forest or the seeming desolation of a clearcut.
Fireweed’s high-elevation relative, broad-leaved willowherb (Epilobium latifolium), grasps life from even more desolate, usually soil-free landscapes. Often the first plant to establish in the fine silts at the edge of receding glaciers, it also grows at the edge of high mountain streams and other rocky, well-watered sites.
While fireweed is stately and well-proportioned, the flowers of broad-leaved willowherb (also called dwarf fireweed) are almost comically large: usually twice as big as the flowers of its much taller cousin. Fireweed may now be going to seed in the valley (like a lot of us) but broad-leaved willowherb flowers are at their peak in the alpine.
Both species are “weeds” in the sense that they are early colonizers of disturbed sites. But they are certainly not weeds to native peoples since the whole plant, especially fireweed, has many uses. Twine can be made from stalk fibres and the seed fluff is a handy padding and weaving material. The inner part of young stems are very tasty (try it!) while the leaves, apparently rich in Vitamins A and C, can be made into a tea.
Finally, don’t even think of saying “weed” to a bee. If you’ve every seen a patch of fireweed alive with bees (just after noon is the most active time) you’ll know how highly bees regard the plant. Humans generously return the favour by highly regarding both the bees and the fireweed honey they make.
September 23 (tentative) – A Day in the Alpine. Details are yet to be worked out, but mark next Saturday on your calendar for a day up on Whistler Mountain. There will be presentations by local naturalists on geology, flowers, alpine animals, and more. Complete details will be included in this space next week.
Website of the week: Beekeepers are keen (bordering on fanatical!) about their vocation. See for yourself at www.internode.net/HoneyBee, a personal website which includes lots of bee photos, bee facts, and links to hundreds of bee sites.
Written by: Bob Brett