In the Weeds: Epilobium ciliatum (Purple-Leaved Willowherb)

Tiny flower of purple-leaved willowherb & long, cylindrical seed pods

This is one of those weeds that I never remember the name of.  It’s common in my garden and not troublesome for me, so I yank it and give it little thought.  I was asked to identify it recently and I couldn’t for the life of me recall, so here I am blogging about it in hopes that it will etch either the common or Latin name in my mind.

Funny how that is with weeds.  I pride myself on remembering esoteric botanical Latin, and yet how few weeds I can name.  Which are perennials, which are annuals, which have taproots and which root from the nodes–these things I know about them.  Giving it some thought, perhaps not knowing their names is my subconscious way of conferring my lack of respect. The equivalent of referring to someone as “hey you.”

Young willowherb volunteer

Purple-leaved willowherb is a native perennial that blooms in mid-summer through fall.  Seedlings seem to do fine in the shade and competition of other plants, hiding inconspicuously until they get tall enough to peak out and bloom.  Since the flowers are tiny, sometimes I don’t notice the plants until the thin, cylindrical seed pods break open, curl back and release their white fluff.  Though related to fireweed, the flowers are not showy like Epilobium angustifolium.

Instead, the flowers are tiny and run from white to mauve-purple.  There are many related species and subspecies  (referred to as a “complex”) that vary in branching, whether they have rhizomatous roots and if they form little offshoots at soil level.  It makes sense that purple-leaved willowherb is considered a large complex because in my own garden, I see quite a variation between one plant and the next–especially with regard to color.  Some have dark reddish stems and leaves, others pure, even green.  It would take someone more taxonomically inclined to sort them out.

Willowherb with branching and red coloration

In my experience, Epilobium ciliatum is not typically deeply rooted and so is easy to pull, especially in good soils.  I can usually get them out before they set seed.  Now the weeds that give me big trouble, those I know the names for, besides, “&#$*!”.

© Colleen Miko, 2012

About Colleen Miko

Colleen Miko is a certified professional horticulturist with 20 years experience in landscape design who has designed award winning gardens for the NW Flower & Garden Show as well as HGTV’s “Landscaper’s Challenge”. Colleen is freelance garden writer and speaker.
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