Growing over 1m high the pink flower spikes of Rosebay Willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) can easily be observed without the need to crouch down and search for flowers. The impressive pink haze of a flowering patch of these plants is due to the pink petals being accompanied by pink sepals and the generous quantity of flowers on each spike. The flowers are also large; 2-3cm wide. This makes details such as the cross-shaped stigma clearly visible to the naked eye.
How many varieties are there?
The fresh green leaves are arranged in a spiral up the stem and the distinctive straight leafy stems can be recognised long before the flowers open. The hairs attached to the seeds are revealed when the seed capsule bursts open and can still be found on the plants when frosted in winter.
The white flowered variety of Rosebay Willowherb is becoming a popular garden part as the flower spikes add height and the plants are robust and reliable. Even a patch of the pink wild variety can be appreciated in the garden for the bold flowers which also last well indoors as cut flowers.
Where do they grow?
Rosebay Willowherb grows freely on wasteland and railway embankments and in gardens and woodland. It is often associated with recently disturbed ground and the seeds germinate after being exposed to high temperatures. This gave rise to its name of “Fireweed” during the Blitz when it thrived on bombsites where the ground had been burnt. Around the same time this previously rare native species spread and became more common around Britain.
Different parts of the plants have been consumed in Europe and America although it reportedly has a bitter taste so perhaps best left out of the kitchen and appreciated as a flowering spectacle.
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