Rosebay Willowherb, or Fireweed, is abundant on local verges at this time of the year. I love the stuff. The vibrant colours from this wild flower brighten all parts of West Cumbria.
The tall flower spikes can often be seen crowding together in thick stands in open spaces, such as woodland clearings, roadside verges, grassland and waste ground. It is a native perennial weed which spreads by seed and rhizomes (underground stems) and is unsuitable in a small garden.
The flower grows to a height of 1.5m (5ft), from June to September. When ripe the long seed capsules split open to reveal numerous fluffy seeds. It is able to colonise new areas because of its specially adapted seeds – fitted with tiny, cottony ‘parachutes’ they are able to disperse across long distances on the slightest breeze. Each plant can produce up to 80,000 seeds and the heat from fires and bonfires can help to germinate them, hence another common name of ‘Fireweed’.
In Britain the plant was considered a rare species in the 18th century, and one confined to a few locations with damp, gravelly soils. The plant’s rise from local rarity to widespread abundance seems to have occurred at the same time as the expansion of the railway network and the associated soil disturbance. The plant also became known as bombweed due to its rapid colonization of bomb craters in the second world war.