A Patch of Fireweed in the Northwest — What Color Are Those Blossoms? Do I Need to Know?

Fireweed blossom glowing pink in the San Juan Islands summer sun. Photo by Barbar Newhall

Fireweed blossom glowing magenta to pink in the full summer sun. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I couldn’t make up my mind about that tall stand of fireweed I saw growing on the edge of a woodlet in the Pacific Northwest last summer. Were those blossoms purple? Blue? Pink? Or what? I needed to know.

I took photos, lots of them, and, sure enough, when I pulled the captured images up on my monitor back home, I still couldn’t tell what color they were. Their hue had changed day by day and minute by minute during my visit to their home in the woods, and they were doing the

Fireweed blossom appears purple in the shade on an island in Washington's San Juan Islands. Photo by Barbara Newhall

When the sun dropped low over the San Juan Islands and put this stalk of fireweed blossoms in the shade, they turned purple, violet and lavender. Photo by Barbara Newhall

same on my computer screen. I Googled myself over to Wikipedia to see where the colors fit on the color wheel. But no sooner had I spotted some promising color charts — including Goethe’s eighteenth-century color wheel — than I realized it was time to meet an old friend for lunch.

As I dug into my feta and spinach phyllo over at La Mediterranee in Berkeley, my friend, a Buddhist, turned the conversation to the Western mind’s tendency to judge, make distinctions, and assign things to categories, including colors. Our brains get so busy putting things in their place—naming them—she said, we forget to . . .

Forget to what? I can’t remember. What was it my friend wanted me to know? Something about being open to what’s real, to what’s right in front of you, except she said it way better than that.

My lunchmate was making a lot of sense. But as I moved my fork from the piquant feta and spinach on my plate to the cinnamony chicken cilicia, my thoughts strayed to my plans for

A fireweed blossom in the sun at the edge of a San Juan Islands woods, viewed from behind. Photo by Barbara Newhall

The backside of a blossom: magenta pink with violet shadows and a splash of crimson at the base of the petals. Photo by Barbara Newhall

the afternoon. As soon as I got home, I promised myself, I’d reboot my computer, pull up my fireweed photos, and get the exact names of their hues from the experts.

Naming things has a long and venerable history in Western culture. God himself invited Adam to name the birds of the sky as well as all the animals, wild and domestic.

Lunch over, back home, I set my inner Westerner free. A few clicks of the mouse, and there they were, stunning colors to choose from: cornflower blue, heliotrope, violet, mauve, magenta pink, crimson, lavender — words as evocative as their subjects.

I’m pretty sure that my Buddhist friend, Westerner born and bred that she is, would like them as much as I do.

More Pacific Northwest flora at “San Juan Islands Flora: Or, I Cling, Therefore I Am.”  If you like art, you might like “Judy Seidel: Click Here for an Eyeful of Her Life-Affirming Paintings.”

A stand of pink fireweed grows six feet tall at the edge of a San Juan Islands woods. Photo by Barbara Newhall

A weedy stand of  fireweed grows six feet tall at the edge of a San Juan Islands woods. True to its name, fireweed grows in woodsy places disturbed by fire. Photo by Barbara Newhall

Stalks of dead fireweed that has turned silver-gray, in the San Juan Islands, WA, in November. Barbara Newhall photo

The same patch of fireweed in November — silvery white.




  1. Sue Watson says:

    Now the question is: which is which? Wish I had crossed the street and gone to Art school, at least enough to draw and know my colors. S


  1. […] San Juan Islands thoughts and photos at “A Patch of Fireweed in the Northwest” and “San Juan Islands Flora: Or, I Cling, Therefore I Am.” […]

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