On my evening walk, while listening to a Skepticality interview with secular humanists Mel Lipman and Lori Lipman Brown, I took some pix of fireweed growing in weird places. (That’s Epilobium angustifolium, Sw. rallarros, mjölkört, “railroad man’s rose”, “milk plant”). The plant propagates by wind-borne seeds like thistledown, and they can apparently sprout anywhere. Some were growing out of a crack in a vertical cliff face.


Others appeared to have been planted on Mr. Kight’s, my ground-floor neighbour’s, balcony.


As it turned out, he had simply left a little planting soil with his gardening tools in a large pot, and the fireweed had come along and made the most of the situation. Blooming there for the benefit of Mr. Kight.


  1. #1 Derek Colanduno
    July 24, 2008

    And who says that skeptical thought and secular knowledge doesn’t inspire great art! 🙂

  2. #2 Martin R
    July 24, 2008

    Thanks man. Phone cam quality. (-;

  3. #3 Pär
    July 24, 2008

    My mother was the cold North wind
    My daddy was the son
    of a railroad man from west of hell,
    where the trains don’t even run

  4. #4 carr2d2
    July 24, 2008

    you’ve captured a beautiful picture of one of my favorite things in the world: shit growing out of rocks. my husband gives me a hard time because any collection of photos that i take on trips inevitably contains a large number of such photos (of which i have a file labeled “shit growing out of rocks”).

    glad i’m not alone.

  5. #5 Lars L
    July 25, 2008

    Carr2d2: I would say that the whole existence of mankind kan be described as “shit growing out of a rock”. I mean we, humans , are starting out as small fellows, growing up, standing om a rock called “Earth”.

  6. #6 Martin R
    July 25, 2008

    Hell no! I ain’t never growing out of rock!

    *makes metal hand signs, sings* “I’M ON THE HIGHWAY TO HELL!”

  7. #7 Dunc
    July 25, 2008

    This plant is also known as rosebay willowherb in the the UK. It’s history is quite interesting – it was originally introduced as a garden ornamental, and it spread initially along the railways. It thrives on freshly burned ground, which was common on railways during the steam era, and the air currents produced by moving trains distribute the seeds very effectively. It then became endemic following WWI, as it’s especially well suited to colonising bomb craters. Its fibres can be used to make a quite good cordage, and its pith can be used as a thickening agent.

  8. #8 Bee
    July 25, 2008

    Pretty pics.

    Fireweed is a native plant in Canada, and is somewhat threatened, along with other native plants, particularly some vulnerable wetland plants, by garden Purple Loosestrife, a non-native that’s escaped and is the Evil Plant from Planet Never-die, apparently. Purple Loosestrife can grow from its plentiful seeds, bits of root, or chopped up stems, doesn’t care if soil is wet or dry, and forms dense impenetrable stands, completely filling in some marshes in Ontario.

    For you ‘shit growing out of rocks’ people (I approve), we got little blue harebells growing out of rocks beside waterfalls. Sorry, no photo.

  9. #9 Martin R
    July 25, 2008

    Over a few thousand years, I guess these scarily successful invasive species will just turn out to be brief perturbations in the equilibrium of a local ecology. As soon as a species becomes really abundant, a predator is bound to step in and evolve the ability to feed on it.

  10. #10 Luna_the_cat
    July 26, 2008

    Wait, THAT’s fireweed???

    …I didn’t know, until now, that fireweed was rosebay willowherb. Like Dunc says.

  11. #11 Bee
    July 26, 2008

    Yup. Same desireable wild plant which is menaced by Purple Loosetrife in its native Canada is apparently a pest in the UK, whereas I presume PL is a garden favourite.

    Out of curiousity, and per Martin’s comment, what eats PL in England? Although importing predator insects can lead to ‘Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly’ syndrome…

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