THE WILLOWHERBS (Epilobium spp.)

Great Willowherb in Moreton Road

Rosebay Willowherb

"Art Nouveau" patterns of the Rosebay Willowherb
ready for seed dispersal

Of the several members of this genus, the most easily recognisable is the Rosebay Willowherb (Epilobium augustifolium), once quite rare but which expanded its population rapidly in the last century as it exploited bare ground created, for example, by bombs during the London Blitz, when it seemed that every demolition site became a blaze of pink. Its popular name, Fireweed, pre-dates those times; it was long noted for its rapid colonisation of woodland areas devastated by fire. Its fluffy seed-heads are distributed far and wide by wind. It is too invasive to be welcome in gardens, despite its attractive pink spires, but there is a white form which is acceptable (with some reservations). More common in Sulgrave parish is the Great Willowherb (E. Hirsutum), found in hedge and ditch bottoms and similar damp places. The example shown above was photographed in the Moreton Road (see attached map). The old popular name for this was Codlins-and-Cream, for no very obvious reason (a codlin is a kind of apple), but presumably referring to the hint of white in the otherwise pink flower. Mention should also be made of the Broad-leaved Willowherb (E. Montanum), often found in gardens, where its smaller size and insignificant flowers make it difficult to detect among other plants until it's too late to prevent seed dispersal.

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service.
Image reproduced by kind permission of Ordnance Survey
and Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland.

Notes by George Metcalfe. Photos by Colin Wootton.