Friday, August 29, 2014

Flora et Fauna: Fireweed

Fireweed's name is derived from the colors its fronds turn when the season turns dry and the warming effect that those powdered fronds have upon the body. Fireweed grows in rocky ground and in wastelands. It can be found at higher altitudes, but generally grows to its full height (approximately six feet) in the warmth of lower altitudes. Fireweed's leaves are lacey fronds that extend off of a central rib in a rosette pattern.

Immature plants have fronds that are approximately three inches long and an inch wide at most. Mature plants that are approximately three years old bear fronds that are six inches long and two inches wide. The central vein of the frond is pithy, like the central stalk of the plant. Mature fireweed has tiny orange blossoms on the ends of the central veins of the fronds during the summer. Late summer/early autumn, the orange blossoms are replaced by orange fruit that are approximately the same size as the blossoms (approximately the size of a small pea).

The fruit of Fireweed is coated with a waxy resin. It is inedible to humans, though birds seem to favor it. Fireweed fruit's juice is toxic and mildly corrosive. Its effect upon the body mimics that of an excessively high fever even as it causes renal failure. A single Fireweed fruit makes an average man extremely ill but recovery is possible. Two to three Fireweed fruit are lethal, difference being in how quickly renal failure progresses.

Fireweed stems and frond veins are useful as tinder when the plant has died, giving this plant its other name 'tinder wort'. The root structure is highly matted and strongly encourages nitrogen fixing. Farmers will allow Fireweed to grow in fallow fields, taking care to cut down the plant before it matures and bears fruit. High altitude Fireweed will tend to be shorter in the mature plant, standing on average approximately three feet high. If the conditions are particularly hostile, mature Fireweed can be found standing at a foot high.

In mid-summer, Fireweed's fronds will turn a range of red colors. At the darkest, it will be a rust color. At the lightest, it will be a brilliant primary red color. Fireweed that is used for medicinal purpose is collected while the red color. The flower bud will remain green on mature plants. Immature Fireweed does not blossom.

To use Fireweed fronds, one cuts them during the driest portion of the day. The fronds are cut off of the central stem, with care being taken to avoid getting the sap (which has the same toxic and corrosive qualities as the juice of the fruit) on oneself. The fronds are dried flat and then stripped along the central vein. They are then powdered and added to alcoholic beverages for consumption. Fireweed fronds are at times added to poultices after being mixed with alcohol, as the alcohol activates the chemicals within the Fireweed. Fireweed used externally will produce an effect similar to the application of capsaicin.

An alcoholic beverage that is produced in the mountains of Tarsus uses a small portion of Fireweed for its distinctive burning sensation. It is known as Fire Witch's Kiss or Witch's Kiss. It is used as a restorative and is much like whiskey, though the burning sensation is more pronounced. Witch's Kiss is rarely seen outside of the mountains of Tarsus. It is rumored that a similar brew can be found in the mountains of Ranyth.

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