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Erechtites hieraciifolia L.

Common Name(s):
American burnweed, Butterweed , Eastern burnweed , Fireweed, Pilewort, White fireweed
Annuals, Herbs, Native Plants

American burnweed is in the Asteraceae (daisy) family.  It is a native, summer annual weed. It prefers man-made or disturbed habitats (roadsides, railway lines, ditches), coastal areas, shores of lakes and rivers, meadows and fields, wetland margins. It is often found in sites associated with beaver activities causing cyclical flooding and drainage and is a common landscape weed. Population explosions may occur in these habitats after human induced disturbances or other conditions where competition is reduced, but they generally die back as natural sucession leads to less open environments.  

Seedlings have elliptic leaves with finely toothed margins; midveins are often tinged red. As plants mature they grow 5 to 8 feet in height, with toothed leaves clasping the stem. The plant often branches and grows in a clump with multiple stems.

Flowers lack petals but are white or cream-colored. Seeds are in small, dandelion-like globes (small, wispy achenes) and are dispersed by wind.  Flower heads of American burnweed are held upright, whereas thickhead flowers droop downward. Plants flower in summer to early fall then die after frost. Seeds are wind dispersed and can produce multiple generations each growing season. This species benefits from fire, and is often one of the earliest pioneer species of areas that have recently burned, hence some of its common names. It prefers moist sites but can handle gravelly soil and some degree of dry conditions. It also grows well in urban areas and around humans.

The flowers are pollinated primarily by wasps including including paper wasps, hornets, eumenine wasps, and spider wasps.  Other insect visitors include long-tongued bees, short-tongued bees, and Tachinid flies. The seeds are wind-dispersed, and are used as a minor food source by birds.

American burnweed is well managed by broad-spectrum herbicides but most single-active ingredient herbicides are less effective. 

summer annual weed
wind, fire
wasps, beneficial insects, weed, bees, birds, pollinator, wildlife

NCCES plant id: 3053

Erechtites hieraciifolia L. Seedling
Erechtites hieraciifolia L. Stem
Erechtites hieraciifolia L. Leaf margin
Erechtites hieraciifolia L. Inflorescence
Erechtites hieraciifolia L. Flower heads
Erechtites hieraciifolia L. Flower head