Fireweed or Burnweed

This tall weed has spread more in recent years

By: Sandy Feather ©2015
Penn State Extension

Q. Can you identify this weed for me and tell me how to control it? I swear it grows overnight, and I am tired of pulling it out of my flowerbeds.

A. The writer enclosed a sample of American burnweed (Erechtites hieracifolia), a member of the composite family that is native to North America. It is also known as fireweed. Penn State Professor of Weed Science Bill Curran notes that it “seems to be increasing exponentially over the last few years in our area.”  I do not recall seeing it a decade ago, but now I see it everywhere I go.


American burnweed is a summer annual that germinates from mid-May through mid-June in our climate and blooms from late July through September. Its flowers are not showy, and actually look more like flower buds. The fluffy, white seed heads are wind-dispersed, much like a dandelion. This weed is well adapted to disturbed areas, particularly areas that have been damaged by fire, hence it common names. It is an early pioneer species that colonizes such areas, and like many annual species, produces a tremendous number of seeds. It can grow rapidly from three to nine feet tall.

American Burnweed or Fireweed

Control of Fireweed

Fortunately, even large plants are relatively easy to pull out. That may be the best way to control it in your flowerbeds. While it can be controlled with herbicides, they may damage desirable plants, especially if it is growing in close contact with them. You may be tired of pulling of them by hand, but keep at it before they go to seed so you do not have to deal with them germinating next year. Mulching your flowerbeds with a finely shredded bark or small pine bark nugget may also help reduce the number of germinating seeds.


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