Fireweeds Journey: Story of a Fireweed through a Burned Area
Recent fires from a lightning strike had spread through the area. Now, fire-darkened tree skeletons reach leafless arms to the sky. Wind creaks through the spindly branches leaving an eerie feeling in the forest. Dark and dreary, the barren landscape appears lonely and sad, but soon new life will sprout from the ground. I am part of this rebirth. Sometimes called a “weed,” I flourish in the barren landscape. The byproduct of flame and ash, I come to life. Brought into the area by wind, the wispy hairs on my seed carry me through the once-green landscape. I land in an empty spot and reach through the ashy soil to begin my life where the sun shines in the open spaces. Without leaves or brush to block me from its warmth, I begin to grow and bring new life to the dead woods. Soon this blackened and brown area will be speckled with vibrant greens. Scattered throughout this sea of green, my brilliant pink flower flourish. I am a fireweed plant. I represent regrowth and new life after fire devastation.
Fireweed, brilliant and beautiful, brings life to areas where forest fires have occurred. Fireweed is a pioneer species, one of the first plants to return after fire. Even before the seed grows, the surface of the soil is busy. Deer mice and other small rodents search for food, but these animals are exposed to predators in the open spaces. The sprouting fireweed stems provide the perfect cover for these small creatures.
Erosion is a major consequence of fire. Erosion occurs when the fire destroys the ground cover and root system. The soil can no longer bind together. Subsequent rains result in landslides. Fireweeds help reduce erosion. Once the fireweed seed breaks through the surface, sunlight facilitates deep root growth, keeping the soil intact. As the fireweed reaches for the sun and into the crisp air, other plants also begin to infiltrate this new open area. Shortly following the fireweed, trees like aspen and shrubs like willow begin to grow. Eventually, lodgepole pines will return.
In addition to preventing erosion of the soil, fireweed provides other benefits to the forest. The newly budded stems of the fireweed are a tasty treat for deer and elk. The roots continue to absorb more nutrients which promotes plant growth, up to 4-6 feet in height, a mini forest of pink blooming flowers.
Contrasting against the blackened trees, the vibrant pink flowers of the fireweed attract many pollinators. Bees and butterflies add a soft hum to the forest; birds jostle the flowers as they swoop down catching insects and small mammals. Soon this area fills with life. The once dead and dark forest transitions to a vibrant explosion of color, with only the remnants of burned logs to remind us of the fires devastation, the new landscape a perfect example of natures rebirth.
Mari is a naturalist with SIHA. She is from Utah and her favorite animals are elk and black bears. In her spare time she loves hiking and swimming. She constantly gets distracted by all the tracks, scat, and wildflowers she sees while hiking and loves trying to identify the animal.