It was called fireweed by us kids, as we played on and in the bomb sites of my childhood city. It grew high up, on impossible ledges of shattered brick and mortar, and it choked the damp basements and outside toilets.
It was everywhere.
It flowered purple against the broken slates of bombed roofs, and, in autumn, it seeded profusely, white gossamer on the October wind.
Later, I came to know it as Rosebay Willow Herb, but Fireweed stayed with me, and now I interchange the names pretty randomly. It must be like this if you’re genuinely bilingual.
Fireweed has flowers of purple, and glows startlingly red as it dies during the seeding time, but the colour is not why it was known as fireweed. It was called fireweed for its habit of growing on newly cleared ground. Whether it was fire or bomb didn’t matter to the plant.
It was a phoenix, rising from the ashes, shallow-rooted and pushy. A bit of a bruiser.
In the days of steam locomotives, it spread along the railway, using the burnt land that was fired by the sparks of trains.
It is almost everywhere now. If it was called something more alien-sounding than rosebay willow herb it would be on the list of invasive plants to exterminate, like Himalayan Balsam.
Imagine . . . Himalayan Fireweed.
But it seems to have been tolerated and accepted, by and large, and a clump of it by the river in the nature reserve has burned through my dim sight, like a fire in the grass. I have loved it each day as I trubdle by on my scooter, and now the blaze is coming to an end.
But for now they are burning in the dull light of a gloomy afternoon.