September 23, 2014

A Fireweed Summer and a Fireweed Fall

This year we had perfect conditions for fireweed, one of the showiest wildflowers in the Rockies.  If you visited in August, you couldn't help but notice their hot pink blossoms, especially in areas where fires burned in 2003.

Now that it's September, the fields of fireweed are the gift that keeps on giving.  In the first two weeks of the month, the leaves turned a beautiful burgundy, and now, in the past week, the seed pods have been splitting open, releasing what might be the lightest and most abundant seed in the Rockies.

Fireweed leaves turning burgundy, with some harebells in the mix.
I did an experiment last week, opening up a seed pod and doing a seed count.  I ended up with 581 seeds, and given that a portion of the seeds blew away in a gust of wind (before I moved the experiment inside), my guess is that there may have been 750 or 800 seeds in the pod.  Each fireweed plant can have several dozen seed pods, and if you start doing the math, that means billions or trillions of seeds produced in the park this summer.

There were 581 seeds in this one fireweed seed pod (plus the ones that blew away).

A field of fireweed going to seed yesterday on the Highline trail near the Plain of Six Glaciers.
North of Lake Louise, there was a fire in early July along the Icefields Parkway, the road to Jasper.  By next summer, the seeds from this year's bumper crop of fireweed will germinate, and in a few years, there will be fabulous roadside viewing.

Happy first day of autumn everyone!