Fire and Fireweed

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This is what the “forest” I was in for work yesterday looked like. One of the teenagers I was with asked me why someone didn’t just cut down all the standing dead trees, and I explained that snags like this are actually important habitat for wildlife such as woodpeckers. It does look pretty bleak, but even on a hot, dry, dusty August day, there were splashes of color.

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That layer of purple is the aptly-named Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium). It’s a “weed” because it’s a pioneer species, quickly colonizing disturbed habitat – especially (as in this case) burned-over forest, but I also saw it growing along roadsides back in Wisconsin. However, unlike a lot of weedy, fast-growing roadside plants, this is a native species. This is one beautiful, welcome weed.


In the natural order of things, the trees that re-grow after a fire (you can see plenty of baby trees in the first two photos if you look) will soon out-compete the sun-loving pioneer weeds. Everything has its place and time, and even a bleak-looking forest of charred tree trunks is full of life.

10 thoughts on “Fire and Fireweed”

  1. I always like to see wild flowers, regardless of they are considered weeds. And I always wondered how to tell if something growing in my garden was a weed or a flower (I’m not much of a gardener), and then I found out a practical test: Grab the plant by the stem, close to the ground, and pull. If it comes out easily, it’s a flower!

  2. Reminds me of two things, one, that I still need to read Bernd Heinrich’s “In a Patch of Fireweed” and two, that I read that woodpecker species in Europe were threatened due to the notion of “cleaning up” the forest by cutting down dead trees, I guess to make the forest “pretty”. One need only to peel back some bark from a dead tree to see the beauty of the excavated galleries left behind by various wood-boring beetles, or watch ichneumon wasps using their ovipositor to probe dead wood for those same beetle grubs, or scan the tree for fantastic fungi or the occasional slime mold. Ok, that was more than two things, and it also just reminded me of Heinrich’s most recent book, Life Everlasting, another wonderful peek into the life of a scientist who is so adept at peeling back the “bark” of biology for the rest of us. Great post and pics, as usual!

    1. Christopher, thanks for mentioning Bernd Heinrich’s books. I’d never even heard of him, but after perusing his books on Amazon, I can see at least a half dozen I’ll want to read. My list of winter reading is getting pretty long!

  3. Hey, that looks like the Biscuit Fire! On the other side of the U.S., the new cohort just looked at a bunch of slides on secondary succession and why snags are important to forest structure. Cheers to experiencing ecology!

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