Human Flower Project

Fireweed: Countdown to Winter

In parts of Alaska, the fireweed bloom casts the date for winter. That’s right: just two months away.


Fireweed in flower, motivating Alaskans

Photo: Kim Lehman and Mark Wieland

“Here is the deal,” writes Fish Taxi, blogging from Valdez, Alaska. “Once the Fireweed blooms to the top and goes to seed we have six weeks ‘til winter. How it looks today we have two months. Give or take a few blooming days.” That’ll be “take,” since she made this prognostication on July 25th.

Epilobium angustifolium grows up to 8 feet tall and seems to inspire Alaskans with a huge range of emotions—elation, industriousness, melancholy, dread.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) put together a fine essay about “summer’s clock,” from which we quote liberally.

“Sometime this month, when the plant reaches a height of a foot or two, the first blossoms will emerge several inches below the tip. As summer progresses, the petals will climb continuously higher. When they reach the tip, summer is all but over. For me it’s like when the villain in a B movie inverts the hourglass and challenges the hero to complete his task before the sands run out….

“A patch of fireweed lines my driveway and, every night, whether I am returning from work or a family outing, I gauge the distance between the highest bloom and the top of the plant. It often prompts a moment of reflection: Have I made good use of the day? Can I complete that long to-do list before summer’s end?

imageHalfrack the cat

ponders the fireweed

Photo: Fish Taxi

“More than once I’ve glanced at the shrinking gap between bloom and tip and skipped watching TV in favor of a hike up the valley with Melissa. Or I’ve forgone dinner and thrown the float tube into the truck to spend the evening casting for trout in a glassy lake. The fireweed is a compelling signal to get out and do something, because when bloom reaches tip and the plant goes cottony with seed, I know the wind that will spread next year’s crop of fireweed will soon bear winter’s first flakes of snow.”

Fish Taxi, like many fellow Alaskans, has been “compelled” to make fireweed honey, and passes along Marilyn’s recipe. Here’s also Kim Lehman’s recipe, which we can vouch for, not having prepared it but having swallowed it. Delicious, strong and distinctive.

Here in Central Texas, where winter is something of a myth, it’s hard to believe that people in our hemisphere are looking for—and seeing—signs of impending snow. Our September is usually crispy hot though it is about the time when our own weather-casting oxblood lilies often bloom, announcing that the first cold front is on its way.

All you phenologists, please inform us of the flowering plants you read to know when to turn off the TV, how far off the winter is—or the fall—or when the Democrats will take back the White House.


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 07/28 at 11:08 AM


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