Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

Fireweed is attractive while in bloom, but becomes ragged in appearance afterwards. This plant can't be confused with most other Epilobium spp. because of their much smaller flowers. However, it does resemble Epilobium hirsutum (Hairy Fireweed), which is not native to Illinois. This latter plant has long, soft, spreading hairs, while Epilobium angustifolium (Fireweed) is hairless. Return
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Description

This native perennial plant is 2-5' tall, and is either unbranched or sparsely branched. The smooth stems are round or somewhat angular; they often become reddish in the sun near the inflorescence. The willow-like hairless leaves are up to 5" long and ¾" across. They are narrowly lanceolate or linear, with margins that are smooth or slightly serrated (widely spaced), and are sessile or with short petioles. The central stem and upper side stems each terminate in an elongated raceme of showy flowers, about 3-8" long. These flowers range in color from pink to magenta, depending on the local ecotype.  Each flower is about 1" across, consisting of 4 petals and 4 sepals. The petals are narrow at the base, but become broad and rounded toward their tips. The sepals are long and narrow; they are usually a darker color than the petals. In the center of the flower, there are up to 8 long white filaments with large magenta anthers; these anthers eventually shrivel and turn brown. The pedicels of the flowers are rather long and colored magenta. The blooming period occurs primarily from early to late summer, and lasts about a month. There is no floral scent. The flowers quickly wither away, and are replaced by seedpods that are long and narrow. These seedpods split into multiple sections, beginning at their tips (each section curling backward), and release a multitude of tiny seeds with small tufts of white hair. These seeds are readily dispersed by the wind, and can travel a considerable distance. The root system is fibrous and rhizomatous, which enables this plant to form colonies.
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Distribution

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Fireweed is a rare plant that occurs in only a few counties of NE and north central Illinois (see Distribution Map). It is more common further to the north in Wisconsin. Habitats include moist sedge meadows, woodland borders, damp ravines, sandy marshes near dunes, remnant bogs, and areas where trees and brush have been removed by fire. This plant is confined to cooler areas of Illinois where the climate has been made more moderate by the influence of the Great Lakes. It is not really a plant of the open prairies, but can be found sometimes in moist meadows. Fire stimulates the germination of this plant's seeds and helps to eliminate competitors, hence the common name.
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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Distribution: Circumboreal, in North America south along the Cordillera to Mexico, throughout Europe to North Africa; and in Asia to Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and throughout the Himalayas to southern China.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Stout erect perennial, forming large colonies by vigorous growth from a thick rootstock or by sprouting from spreading horizontal roots; stems simple, 30-250 cm, glabrous throughout or densely strigillose above. Leaves narrowly lanceolate or lanceolate, 2.5-20 x 0.4-3.5 cm, glabrous or sometimes with strigillose hairs on the abaxial midvein, obscurely denticulate, spirally arranged, subsessile or attenuate to short petiolate. Inflorescence a simple elongate lax raceme. Flowers drooping. in bud; ovaries densely white canescent, 10-18 mm, on pedicels 7-12 mm long. Sepals 9-13 x 1.6-2 mm, acute, canescent. Petals 12-15 x 7-8 mm, entire, deep pink or magenta or rarely white. Styles l0-20 mm long, initially sharply deflexed, becoming erect after anthers dehisce and reflex, longer than stamens. Stigma deeply 4-lobed and recurved, exserted beyond anthers. Capsules 4-7 cm long, on pedicels 0.7-1.5 cm long. Seeds 1-1.3 x 0.32-0.4 mm, surface irregularly foveolate, the chalazal collar short and inconspicuous; coma 9-12 mm long, white, not markedly deciduous. Chromosome number n = 18, 36, 54.
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Diagnostic Description

Synonym

Chamaenerion angustifolium (L.) Scop., Fl. Carniol., ed. 2, l: 271. 1772; Shteinb. in Schischk. & Bobrov, Fl. URSS 15: 621. 1949; Wendelbo, Nytt. Mag. Bot. 1: 46. 1952; Epilobium spicatum Lam., Fl. Franc. 3: 482. 1778; Boiss., Fl. Or. 2: 745. 1872; H. LJv., Ic. Gen. Epil. t. 226. 1911; Chamerion angustifolium (L., em.) Holub, Folia Geobot. Phytotax. 7: 86. 1972.
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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Fireweed is a rare plant that occurs in only a few counties of NE and north central Illinois (see Distribution Map). It is more common further to the north in Wisconsin. Habitats include moist sedge meadows, woodland borders, damp ravines, sandy marshes near dunes, remnant bogs, and areas where trees and brush have been removed by fire. This plant is confined to cooler areas of Illinois where the climate has been made more moderate by the influence of the Great Lakes. It is not really a plant of the open prairies, but can be found sometimes in moist meadows. Fire stimulates the germination of this plant's seeds and helps to eliminate competitors, hence the common name.
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This exceedingly widespread and variable species is common in the flora region. Two subspecies are recognized in North America (Mosquin, 1966) based on a combination of quantitative leaf and pollen characters, geographical range, and chromosome number. The diploid (with n = 18) subsp. angustifolium, with a more northern subarctic distribution, has smaller, glabrous leaves, and smaller triporate pollen. The polyploid (with n = 36, 54) subsp. circumvagum Mosquin is distributed farther south in the boreal forest zone, and has larger, sometimes pubescent leaves, and larger pollen, some of which is quadriporate. The pattern of variation in the Himalayan region is not so clearly defined, either geographically or morphologically, and there is no significant number of chromosome counts. It seems best, therefore, to treat this species in the Himalayan region without subspecific rank, at least until more critical studies have been carried out. Fl. Per.: Jul-Sep. Fr. Per.: Aug-Sep.
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Associations

Faunal Associations

Primarily long-tongued bees visit the flowers for pollen and nectar, including bumblebees. Smaller short-tongued bees and Syrphid flies also visit the flowers, but they seek pollen and are probably less effective at pollination. The caterpillars of various moths are known to feed on foliage of Epilobium spp., including Fireweed, but they are usually found to the north of Illinois. The seeds are too small to be of much interest to birds. The foliage is non-toxic and palatable to various mammalian herbivores, but it has low food value.
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Flower-Visiting Insects of Fireweed in Illinois

Epilobium angustifolium (Fireweed)
(Insect activity is unspecified; information is limited; the observation below is from Mitchell)

Bees (long-tongued)
Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile centuncularis (Mch)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Epilobium angustifolium

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Epilobium angustifolium

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 14
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N4 - Apparently Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: T5 - Secure

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Cultivation

The preference is full or partial sun, moist conditions, and cool to warm temperatures. This plant becomes dormant during hot summer weather. The soil should contain abundant organic matter, with or without sand. A low pH is tolerated, if not preferred. This plant is fairly easy to grow, even under conditions that are not entirely suitable for it, but it has difficulty competing with plants that are better adapted to hot, dry summer weather. Foliar disease is not troublesome; however, the stems are easily broken. In warmer areas with a long growing season, Fireweed will bloom during early summer, while in cooler, boreal areas, it tends to bloom later in the summer.
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Treated as Chamerion angustifolium ssp. angustifolium in Kartesz (1999).

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