Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Bumblebee on fireweed flowers

with 27 comments

From August 30th in Glacier National Park, here’s a bumblebee on some fireweed flowers. The way the bumblebee flitted about on the fireweed reminds me now of the way botanists have been flitting about in some of their classifications. They’ve dubbed fireweed Epilobium angustifolium, Chamerion angustifolium, and most recently Chamaenerion angustifolium. Oh well, that which we call fireweed, by any other name would have flowers that look as good—assuming you’re close enough. After one view of wilted flowers and another of fresh ones from a bit of a distance, you’re finally getting a proper look at some fireweed flowers.

If you’d like to see the many places that fireweed grows in North America, check out the zoomable USDA map. I’d thought of this as a species from the Northwest and Canada and Alaska, and so was glad to finally encounter it on this trip. Now I’m surprised to learn that fireweed grows in 38 out of the 50 states in the United States. That range doesn’t include Texas but it does include Long Island, where I grew up.

© 2017 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

October 20, 2017 at 4:34 AM

27 Responses

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  1. busy bee, so beautiful –


    October 20, 2017 at 4:56 AM

  2. Beautiful bee and Fireweed. I see both of us live in the “Absent/Unreported” areas of the Fireweed. At least we have a huge bumblebee population here!


    October 20, 2017 at 6:57 AM

    • Looks like the nearest places for us is New Mexico. I wish I’d known that when I was there in June; I’d have looked for some or even have tried finding a native plant person who could tell me where to find some. Oh well, as things turned out, I didn’t have long to wait. Up in Montana and Alberta I saw tons of fireweed, so I’m happy.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2017 at 8:03 AM

  3. Plentiful bumble bees suggest the rodent population is under control.


    October 20, 2017 at 7:14 AM

    • I hadn’t realized some animals prey on bumblebees. I found an article just now that says: “When they locate a bumble bee nest, skunks help themselves to bee larvae and adult insects. They ignore the pain of bee stings to get to their preferred foods.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2017 at 8:06 AM

      • Bumblebees always seem pretty likable and non-aggressive. The ground nesting bees, on the other hand, have been a real pain-in-the…, well, several places, actually, and I’m grateful when I see that the skunks have dug up their burrows and eaten the larvae.

        Robert Parker

        October 20, 2017 at 11:41 AM

        • I take the general attitude with insects that if I don’t bother them they won’t bother me. That usually works pretty well, one exception being fire ants.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 20, 2017 at 2:34 PM

          • Yes, with a few exceptions, like mosquitoes, black flies, deer flies, I’d agree. I’ve never been stung by a honey bee or bumblebee in my life. Unfortunately, when I cut the lawn, there are some other ground nesting bees that regard mowing as an insult and assault on their sovereign territory, and boy they get mad pretty quick!

            Robert Parker

            October 20, 2017 at 3:34 PM

            • Yes, I can see their point. We have bees that nest in the ground in central Texas too, but apparently none in either of the two lawns I’ve had to mow in Austin.

              Steve Schwartzman

              October 20, 2017 at 3:43 PM

            • I didn’t know that bumblebees will nest in the ground until I wandered into one’s territory and made one pretty angry and defensive. That was the day I learned that bumblebees can sting multiple times, because they don’t lose their stinger. I can attest to the fact that they can sting as many as six times. Life lesson: don’t swat at a stinging bumblebee, even instinctively.


              October 21, 2017 at 7:22 AM

              • Your story strikes me as an augmented version of “Once bitten, twice shy.” Not serendipitous.

                Steve Schwartzman

                October 21, 2017 at 7:35 AM

  4. Looks like it grows here in Lake County but I’m not sure that I’ve ever come across it. I’ll have to seek it out next season.


    October 20, 2017 at 7:44 AM

    • The map makes it seem that you’re near an edge of the plant’s range, so it may exist but not be common in your area. Maybe someday we’ll have maps where the intensity of the color indicates how common a species is in an area. If you can talk to people in a native plant group and find some fireweed near you even this late in the season, it might still be worth your while because fireweed is like milkweed in releasing fluffy tufts of seeds. I didn’t know that until I was enchanted by some of those fluffy tufts on this trip.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 20, 2017 at 8:12 AM

      • It is little discoveries like that that enchant, isn’t it?


        October 22, 2017 at 8:49 AM

        • It sure is. Fireweed produces linear reddish seed capsules. It’s not obvious—at least it wasn’t to me—that seed-bearing fluff is packed densely inside those slender tubes.

          Steve Schwartzman

          October 22, 2017 at 9:47 AM

  5. Fireweed has certainly made itself comfortable throughout the nation.


    October 20, 2017 at 8:58 AM

  6. I see on the DEC site that this plant lives on Long Island, and most of NYS, especially the North Country, but not my county for some reason! I don’t remember ever seeing it, and that’s a shame, it’s beautiful.

    Robert Parker

    October 20, 2017 at 11:45 AM

    • I looked up the range, because it struck me as curious that something you photographed in Glacier Nat’l Park would also exist on L.I., as you commented. If I get a chance to walk in the Tug Hill plateau area, I’ll look for it next summer.

      Robert Parker

      October 20, 2017 at 11:48 AM

      • What I don’t know is how common fireweed is in the New York counties where it’s been attested. It may be like some species that are native in central Texas that I encounter only once every few years, as opposed to others that abound and that I see practically every time I go out. Fireweed was like that in Montana and southwestern Alberta, even to the point of perhaps being the wildflower I saw most often on the trip. In any case, I do hope you find your fireweed in New York.

        Steve Schwartzman

        October 20, 2017 at 2:25 PM

  7. It is beautiful. I was sure Terry Glase must have posted photos of it, and indeed he has. He talks about how prolific it is in his part of Montana, and also noted that it’s one of the first flowering plants to come back after forest fires. Given this year’s fire season, that’s nice to know.


    October 21, 2017 at 7:27 AM

    • That propensity for quickly and extensively colonizing burned ground seems to be the source of the name fireweed. (Until this trip I’d assumed the fire in the name referred to red parts of the plant.) I imagine fireweed’s milkweed-like seeds play a big role in that rapid spread.

      Your mention of Terry’s blog sent me searching to look at his pictures of fireweed. In the process I saw another of his photographs that let me identify one of my unknowns from the recent trip. More serendipity.

      Steve Schwartzman

      October 21, 2017 at 7:49 AM

  8. […] post, three previous photographs showed you fireweed flowers and animals. In one case it was with a bumblebee, in another with a ground squirrel, and the third with a caterpillar. What impressed me about the […]

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