Rosebay willowherb Chamerion angustifolium

Status Green - Least concern
Best Time to See June, July, August, September
Colour Purple
Habitat Woodland

A striking wild plant with tall spires of large pink flowers and leaves that grow like a staircase around the stem. Its leaves resemble those of the willow species, hence the name.

Rosebay willowherb is a fine example of a 'pioneer species' - the first plants to colonise a barren area with very little competition (such as the sites of forest fires). For this reason it was a familiar sight following the London Blitz (see below).

Distribution

Common throughout England, Wales and south-east Scotland. Rarer in Ireland.

Habitat

As a pioneer plant, rosebay willowherb thrives on waste ground. Keep an eye out for it when travelling by car or train. It likes to grow in dry, relatively open areas. It can typically be found in forest clearings, beside tracks and trails, on recently disturbed ground and on well-drained banks of rivers. Since it can colonise disturbed sites, even following an oil spill, it is often used to reestablish vegetation.

Best time to see

Late summer, when it flowers: July-September.

Did you know?

Commonly known as Fireweed in North America, it often appears after forest fires and other events which leave the earth scorched. This tendency also gave rise to the name Bombweed in the UK. London has indelible memories of the drifts of this flower in the bomb sites of the second world war. As a pioneer plant it was one of the first to colonise the scarred earth, and its vivid spires were synonymous with London's revival. As such, it was a popular choice as the County Flower of our capital. Today it mingles with buddleias and Michaelmas daisies on railway banks, old walls and waste ground.

Uses of Rosebay willowherb hare multiple, from natural cordage, to clothing, to fire-lighting to edible roots, shoots, leaves and flowers as well as numerous medicinal applications, some of which are currently under investigation. It can be used to treat cuts or pus-filled boils by placing a piece of raw stem on the afflicted area.

Many uses are well-known to native peoples from Alaska to Siberia. In Alaska, candies, syrups, jellies and even ice cream are made from Rosebay willowherb, whilst monofloral honey made primarily from the nectar has a distinctive, spiced flavour. In Russia, the leaves of the plant were traditionally used as tea since they can undergo fermentation much like real tea. Koporye tea or Ivan Chai is still commonly sold and consumed in Russia today.