Dwarf Fireweed – Chamaenerion latifolium

Alaska Wildflowers | Pink

Flowers of dwarf fireweed in Denali National Park

Dwarf Fireweed

Chamaenerion latifolium*

Common Names

arctic fireweed
broad-leaved willow herb
dwarf fireweed
river beauty
river beauty willowherb
Greenland: niviaqsiaq “young girl”

Synonyms

Epilobium latifolium
Chamerion latifolium (Most floras and US Databases list this as the scientific name – for more info on my use of Chamaenerion latifolium, see my note in Common Fireweed)
Chamerion subdentatum

Subspecies

C. latifolium var. grandiflorum
C. latifolium var. megalobum
C. latifolium var. parviflorum

Genus: Chamaenerion
Family: Onagraceae
Order: Myrtales
full classification

Duration – Growth Habit

Perennial – Forb/herb



Identification and Information

Dwarf fireweed is a short, pink-flowering perennial herb growing from a woody caudex with wiry roots. The caudex is 4-10 mm in diameter. The plant grows 5-30 cm high with clumped, unbranched stems. The leaves grow on the stems, alternate or opposite with a 0-2 mm petiole, and the basal leaves are usually brown. The cauline leaf blades do not have petioles and are elliptic or ovate to lanceolate-elliptic 25-45 mm long. Leaf margins and adaxial surface (top) are entire and glabrous, while the abaxial surface (underside) may be glabrous or have sparse hairs.

The inflorescences are erect racemes. There are two or more flowering stems per plant; the flowering stems also have leaves. They have 3-5 flowers per inflorescence. The dwarf fireweed flower is erect in bud, nodding when it opens, and rose-purple to pink. It has 4 narrow, dark sepals (purple), 10-16 mm long and 1.5-3.5 mm wide (oblong-lanceolate). The 4 larger, lighter-colored petals (rose-purple or pink) are obovate or oblong-obovate. The lower pair of petals are often smaller than the upper pair. Rarely, the petals may be white. The flower has 8 stamens with white or pink filaments and dark red anthers. The style is light pink to rose-purple, 4-7 mm long, and 4 stigma lobes (2-3.5 mm long) recurved at maturity. The seed capsules are 2.5-8 cm long.

Dwarf fireweed is the National Flower of Greenland where it is known by the name niviaqsiaq, meaning “young girl.”

Uses

For information only (typically historical) – I take no responsibility for adverse effects from the use of any plant.

The entire dwarf fireweed plant is edible. The flowers can be eaten raw in a salad as well as the greens that are a good source of vitamin C and pro-vitamin A. The leaves are sometimes cooked. In Greenland, the flowers and leaves are eaten raw with seal blubber. The seed pod is also edible before it becomes woody.

Health effects are not substantiated. The plants can be used to make tea, which is considered good for the stomach and may help relieve stomach aches and intestinal problems.


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Distribution and Habitat

Chamaenerion latifolium is a widespread arctic-alpine (circumboreal distribution) species found in Alaska, Canada, and the western US, Greenland, Iceland, China, and Siberia. Curiously, it is not found in Scandinavia or Europe in general.

It usually lives in moist areas, such as gravelly or sandy river banks, river terraces, and flood plains (frequently along the gravelly braided rivers in Alaska). It can also be found near the base of talus slopes and in arctic or alpine regions where snowpack persists late in the spring/summer season.

Classification

RankScientific Name (Common Name)
KingdomPlantae  (plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants)
   SubkingdomViridiplantae (green plants)
      InfrakingdomStreptophyta (land plants)
         SuperdivisionEmbryophyta 
            DivisionTracheophyta (vascular plants, tracheophytes)
               SubdivisionSpermatophytina (spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames)
                  ClassMagnoliopsida 
                     SuperorderRosanae 
                        OrderMyrtales 
                           FamilyOnagraceae (evening primroses, onagres)
                              GenusChamerion (or Chamaenerion) Raf. ex Holub – fireweed
                                 SpeciesChamerion latifolium (L.) Holub – dwarf fireweed

References and Further Reading

Guidebook

Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers, Pratt, Verna E. pg. 14

Classification and Taxonomy

Chamerion latifolium (L.) Holub Taxonomic Serial No.: 510758, ITIS Database

Uses

C. latifolium (L.) Holub, Native American Ethnobotonany Database

Map and Distribution

Chamerion latifolium (L.) Holub Published in: Holub. (1972). In: Folia Geobot Phytotax., 7(1): 86., GBIF Database

Description and Information

Chamaenerion latifolium (Linnaeus) Sweet Hort. Brit. ed. 2, 198. 1830., Flora of North America

Chamerion latifolium (L.) Holub, Flora of the Canadian Arctic Archipelago

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