Fireweed

Fireweed stalks at the famed Lake Louise in Banff National Park in Canada, steal the show, just as they usually do any place where they grow.


I am usually too indecisive to ever claim to have favorites when it comes to nature. Often, my favorite bird happens to be the one we have just discovered, a phenomenon we have come to call Favorite for the Day. I am the same with wildflowers. There is so much more that goes into an experience than just the flowers that it is often hard to separate the emotions from the flower.

One wildflower though, has been in my top ten since I was twelve years old. That year, my grandparents took myself and two cousins on a month-long adventure up the then unpaved Alaska Highway, a trip I likely never expressed enough gratitude for.

It was 1969 and new fires were burning throughout the Yukon, turning the sky into a smoky haze. The previous years’ fire scars seemed ablaze too, but with a carpet of wildflowers we had never seen and it impressed even my distracted twelve-year-old brain.

Flower spikes over a foot long and full of magenta (a color description I learned many years later—I called them purple or pink at the time) flowers with contrasting white stamens waved in the breeze just like flames from a prairie fire. I was mesmerized by the seemingly endless blankets that, from the camper window, seemed dense enough to walk on.

At a visitor center, rare in those days, we quizzed a ranger about that awesome flower. He told us it was fireweed, a species of flower that is one of the first to pioneer a burn, initiating the sequence of forest succession.

I was reminded of that long-ago trip on a recent drive through British Columbia, the Yukon and finally, Alaska. Stands of fireweed brightened just about every turn of the road, colored hillsides and filled up recent fire-cleared forests, perhaps not quite like my memories, but enough to routinely elicit wide-eyed exclamations from my wife and me.

Fireweed is a native and thrives in most of the western U.S., Canada and Alaska. Fireweed is so named because of its relationship with fire and succession. The weed part of the name is unfortunate though, for there is nothing “weedy” about this plant. While it does form monocultures, it is not invasive and serves to prepare the way for other plants. It may only dominate a site for a few years before giving way to shrubs and other perennials.

On our current trip we have discovered another fireweed, dwarf fireweed, that isn’t as interested in burned areas as it is in recently exposed glacial soils and streams. This plant has the identical four-petaled flower about one inch across, but usually grows only a foot tall and flowers are individual, not on long stems.

Once fireweed has flowered, seedpods form, develop and dry. The dry pods split, releasing hundreds of tiny seeds, each attached to a feathery white tail that floats the seeds on even a slight breeze.

Blooming fireweed is an incredible mid-summer show in forests just about everywhere in the West. If that were all, it would be more than enough. However, in the fall, fireweed once again steals the show when its long, pointed leaves turn crimson, handsome enough that I included a close-up of a fall fireweed on my first Island Park calendar.

Fireweed will always remain one of my favorite wildflowers. Besides their unequalled beauty, fireweed reminds me of a long-ago trip and grandparents who cared enough to build a lasting memory for me.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure. 


"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 

here

Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Perfect Light Photo Supply

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho