Two species of fireweed flowers can be found around Valdez: Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium), and Dwarf Fireweed (Epilobium latifolium). Dwarf Fireweed is also referred to as "River Beauty". Both species are sometimes included in the genus Chamerion or the genus Chamaenerion.
Fabulous Fireweed. Photo by Gary Minish.
Dwarf fireweed, as its name suggests, is smaller than fireweed, and will grow lower to the ground. Dwarf fireweed's leaves will appear less elongated than those of fireweed. Both species are popular with pollinators, producing pink or purple flowers during the summer.
Dwarf Fireweed on Airport Road
"When first emerging from the ground, fireweed shoots can be harvested for food. They are a good source of vitamin C and vitamin A. The shoots and young leaves of the fireweed plant can be eaten raw, in salads, sautéed or steamed as you would asparagus." University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service
Young fireweed shoots in the spring are edible. Fireweed may also be used to make an herbal tea or as an ingredient in a number of other recipes, including fireweed honey and fireweed vinegar. For more information on uses for fireweed, please consult this PDF from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.
Fireweed shoots along Homestead Trail in spring
Look for fireweed in open areas that receive lots of sunlight, such as along highways, river banks or on hillsides. Two great options for looking for fireweed while in downtown Valdez are by hiking up Civic Center Hill (using the Overlook Trail) or by hiking up Blueberry Hill (using the Meals Hill Trail). Dwarf fireweed is more common in recently deglaciated area, such as along Airport Road leading out to Valdez Glacier Lake.