A 24-hour, 245 mile survey of fireweed plants from Anchorage to Seldovia revealed an almost complete absence of flowering.
Observation by Mike Brubaker:
I love fireweed. The pink flowers brighten Alaska landscapes and the red in September brings some of our best fall colors. They provide a natural calendar, flowering vertically as the summer goes on. We say that summer is over when the last fireweed flowers bloom. This year has been strange. Unprecedented in my memory. There is very little fireweed in Anchorage at all, and I have seen almost no flowers, as of late July. This after an early summer that was more purple then usual with an explosion of lupine across the city. Most of the fireweed that I have found showed no sign of flowering, and some leaves were already turning red.
When I drove down the highway to Homer last week I made a point of stopping along from time to time to get some snap shots of fireweed conditions. The photos are attached to this post, from Anchorage on July 28 and from Girdwood, Sterling, near Ninilchik, Homer and finally across Kachemak Bay at McDonald's Spit on July 29. was only a few small patches of fireweed to be found, one being the featured image from Homer Spit. That however was the anomaly. It is a little unhinging. My natural bearing for the point where we are in the summer has been lost. I did not realize how much I actually relied on the fireweed as a measure until this summer. Or how monotonous summer without color even when it has been as verdent as this summer has been. It gives me pause. What is this reason for the absence of fireweed, and the lack of flowering. Tonight I was delighted to find one fireweed that was blooming among dozens that were just ... not. What a relief to see that we still have some summer left. For friends that are missing their fireweed, I offer this bright sunset photo, and a favorite poem by Robert Frost. Enjoy.
A Passing Glimpse
by Robert Frost
To Ridgely Torrence
On Last Looking into His 'Hesperides'
I often see flowers from a passing car That are gone before I can tell what they are.
I want to get out of the train and go back To see what they were beside the track.
I name all the flowers I am sure they weren't; Not fireweed loving where woods have burnt--
Not bluebells gracing a tunnel mouth-- Not lupine living on sand and drouth.
Was something brushed across my mind That no one on earth will ever find?
Heaven gives it glimpses only to those Not in position to look too close.
Observation Follow Up 8-6-23:
Drove from Homer to Anchorage and noticed a fair amount of fireweed bloom in the Anchor Point and Ninilchik area. Perhaps seems like the bloom was delayed at least in this area, and so the unusual seasonality category seems appropriate.
Comment by Katie Spellman:
Here in the interior we have cycles of years where fireweed flowers abundantly and years where the same patch has few flowers. These patches seem to cycle. It also seems to correspond with competition with other plants, but just in my observation. For example, the fireweed seems to have more abundant flowers when there is less bird vetch growing in the patch. I saw that some studies have shown that fireweed flower size decreases with drought stress (Carroll et al. 2001), and I have certainly seen fireweed abort flowers and fruits if they are stressed. Hope that helps! -Katie