Is the fireweed already signaling an early end to summer?

Meteorologist Joe Bartosik talks to a local expert to see if the meaning of fireweed folklore matches up with this year's fireweed growth and color.
Published: Aug. 8, 2022 at 9:40 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Fireweed is already high this year — nearly six feet tall — and like the two colors that we see of pink and white, they correspond with two tales of what it means for the upcoming winter.

Alaska Botanical Garden Education Specialist Patrick Ryan provided historical context about the meaning of blooming fireweed.

“The traditional story with the fireweed — and apparently this might go back to Native folklore or earlier — is that when they bloom out to the top, it’s six weeks till winter,” Ryan said. “They start blooming from the bottom, and they can still have flowers to the top, but after that, we should get ready for winter.”

Ryan’s presumption is an update to traditional fireweed folklore.

“When fireweed turns to cotton, summer will soon be forgotten,” Ryan stated. “I’ve never heard that one. So I like that.”

Along some Anchorage streets, tall reddish stalks with hints of cotton white seedlings are noticeably widespread. Patrick has heard that the fireweed flower’s turn to cotton is also the case around other portions of the state.

It’s not even mid-August yet, so can coated snow really be closer than expected? Ryan believes it could be true.

“I think the folklore indicates really the predicting snow, that we will have snow at that six week time. I’ve already heard some up north and we’ve had some visitors from Denali that were saying there was definitely termination dust up there, so it’s coming,” Ryan said. “If you keep a journal you could actually track that and I do encourage people to keep a garden journal, a weather journal would be fun to see what really has happened. I just had that feeling this year we are going to get some, and of course, we’re having an abundant rainfall right now which could turn into more other types of precipitation. So, I think probably leaning towards a snowy winter is going to be true this year.”

What’s not surprising is that where fires occurred in the state this year, fireweed is certainly living up to its name.

“The roots that are there aren’t very deep,” Ryan said. “I don’t wonder if they don’t stay somewhat dormant until a heavily forested and shaded area is cleared out by fire and then all this abundant light comes in and things are able to grow.”

So, even across the Interior where widespread fires occurred this year, in terms of bloom and color, all hope is not lost this season.

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