(Chamaenerion angustifolium; Epilobium angustifolium of Gray)

Evening Primrose family

Flowers - Magenta or pink, sometimes pale, or rarely white, more

or less than 1 in. across, in an elongated, terminal, spike-like

raceme. Calyx tubular, narrow, in 4 segments; 4 rounded,

spreading petals; 8 stamens; 1 pistil, hairy at base; the stigma

4-lobed. Stem: 2 to 8 ft. high, simple, smooth, leafy. Leaves:

Narrow, tapering, willow-like, 2 to 6 in. long. Fruit: A slender,

curved, violet-tinted capsule, from 2 to 3 in. long, containing

numerous seeds attached to tufts of fluffy, white, silky threads.

Preferred Habitat - Dry soil, fields, roadsides, especially in

burnt-over districts.

Flowering Season - June-September.

Distribution - From Atlantic to Pacific, with few interruptions;

British Possessions and United States southward to the Carolinas

and Arizona. Also Europe and Asia.

Spikes of these beautiful brilliant flowers towering upward above

dry soil, particularly where the woodsman's axe and forest fires

have devastated the landscape, illustrate Nature's abhorrence of

ugliness. Other kindly plants have earned the name of fire-weed,

but none so quickly beautifies the blackened clearings of the

pioneer, nor blossoms over the charred trail in the wake of the

locomotive. Beginning at the bottom of the long spike, the

flowers open in slow succession upward throughout the summer,

leaving behind the attractive seed-vessels, which, splitting

lengthwise in September, send adrift white silky tufts attached

to seeds that will one day cover far distant wastes with beauty.

Almost perfect rosettes, made by the young plants, are met with

on one's winter walks.

Epi, upon, and lobos, a pod, combine to make a name applicable to

many flowers of this family. In general structure the fire-weed

closely resembles its relative the evening primrose. Bees, not

moths, however, are its benefactors. Coming to a newly opened

flower, the bee finds abundant pollen on the anthers and a sip of

nectar in the cup below. At this stage the flower keeps its still

immature style curved downward and backward lest it should become

self-fertilized - an evil ever to be guarded against by ambitious

plants. In a few days, or after the pollen has been removed, up

stretches the style, spreading its four receptive stigmas just

where an incoming bee, well dusted from a younger flower, must

certainly leave some pollen on their sticky surfaces.

The GREAT HAIRY WILLOW-HERB (Epilobium hirsutum), whose white

tufted seeds came over from Europe in the ballast to be blown

over Ontario and the Eastern States, spreads also by underground

shoots, until it seems destined to occupy wide areas. In these

showy magenta flowers, about one inch across, the stigmas and

anthers mature simultaneously but cross-fertilization is usually

insured because the former surpass the latter, and naturally are

first touched by the insect visitor. In default of visits,

however, the stigmas, at length curling backward, come in contact

with the pollen-laden anthers. The fire-weed, on the contrary, is

unable to fertilize itself.

A pale magenta-pink or whitish, very small-flowered, branching

species, one to two feet high, found in swamps from New Brunswick

to the Pacific, and southward to Delaware, is the LINEAR-LEAVED

WILLOW-HERB (F. lineare), whose distinguishing features are its

very narrow, acute leaves, its hoariness throughout, the dingy

threads on its tiny seeds, and the occasional bulblets it bears

near the base of the stem. It is scarcely to be distinguished by

one not well up in field practice from another bog lover, the

DOWNY or SOFT WILLOW-HERB (F. strictum), which, however, is a

trifle taller, glandular throughout, and with sessile, not

petioled, leaves. The PURPLE-LEAVED WILLOW-HERB (E. coloratum),

common in low grounds, may best be named by the reddish-brown

coma to which its seeds are attached. Both leaves and stem are

often highly colored.