Erechtites hieraciifolius (Pilewort)

Plant Info
Also known as: American Burnweed, Fireweed
Family:Asteraceae (Aster)
Life cycle:annual
Habitat:part shade, sun; disturbed soil, along roads, along shores, open woods
Bloom season:July - September
Plant height:2 to 8 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: indistinct Flower shape: tubular Cluster type: panicle

[photo of flowers] Clusters of bud-like flowers at the top of the stem and the end of branches arising from leaf axils near the top of the plant. Flowers are about a ¼ across and petal-less, with 2 sets of bracts. The inner bracts, often with purplish tips, form a ½-inch tube exposing just the yellowish to creamy white stamens at the top. The base of the tube is swollen with a few short thread-like outer bracts attached at the bottom. Early flowers heads are in a tight cylindrical cluster at the end of the main stem but as the plant matures and side branches proliferate, clusters become more open, with single flowers at the ends of long naked stalks.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: lobed Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are to 8 inches long and 3 inches wide, crisp and fragile, lower ones are broad lance shaped, tapered to a short stalk, shallow to deeply lobed with jagged teeth around the edges, sparsely hairy on the underside along the midrib, becoming smaller and stalkless or clasping as they ascend the stem. Stems are brittle and erect, round with vertical ridges, smooth or with sparse speading hairs. A single large main stem when young, but forming many upper flowering branches with age.

Fruit: Fruit type: seed with plume

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a brown seed with a tuft of bright white hairs to carry it off in the wind. The base of the floral tube swells even more as seed develops, and the inner bracts open up and flare out to release the seed.


An early pioneer species on disturbed sites, Pilewort shows up often around human habitations. I've seen large populations erupt in wetalnd restoration sites when more dominant species, such as cattails, have been repressed. It seems to have a preference for moist soil but is found in drier habitats as well. Overall, the plant resembles the wild lettuces (Lactuca spp.) but is only distantly related. Flowers of the various lettuce species open up and have numerous ray flowers (petals).

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken in Ramsey County. Photos by Peter M. Dziuk taken in Anoka County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Gretchen - Pine County, St. Croix State Park
on: 2013-07-02 13:16:05

St. Croix State Park following logging.

Posted by: bruce - Minnetonka
on: 2015-07-21 20:46:34

After clearing away lots of buckthorn and other invasives, this plant, along with other native first-comers, has started to become much more prevalent on our property. I am happy to know that is is a native species.

Posted by: Roger - Ramsey County - South Shoreview
on: 2015-09-07 11:01:48

This has appeared under the shade of old lilacs. Also, I saw it under pines in the Pine Tree Collection at the MN Landscape Arboretum in Chaska.

Posted by: Matthew - NEW BRIGHTON
on: 2017-08-25 01:08:44

Several appeared in our front yard this summer after we cleared the lawn last fall and planted a native seed mix. They weren't in the mix, they apparently just liked the yard without it's turf.

Posted by: luciearl - Lake Shore
on: 2019-08-25 16:32:55

Seeing several of these planted on the new trail, Cty Rd 77. So relieved it's native. Many of the flowers planted were not.

Posted by: Bill Brown - Grant
on: 2019-08-29 10:43:11

I have been over run with these plants this year. They are growing thick on more than an acre of land I cleared within the last two years of buckthorn infestation some areas of which were also submerged in the protracted 2019 spring melt. Both resulted in a lot of bare soil, especially the melt part. From a landscape point of view, I don't see anything awful about this plant except, possibly its high reproductive rate. On the other hand, I'm not sure this isn't a good thing either. Certainly, some plant on bare ground is better than no plant. I've read that it's doesn't compete well, so I expect it will die off. No guarantees though. Besides its high rate of reproduction, I also don't see much attractive about it either. So, after a fair amount of consideration, I've decided to know it back by cutting off the flowers and seed heads before they disperse. Would you recommend otherwise?

Posted by: Ellen S - Hennepin County suburbs
on: 2020-09-30 18:36:16

They came to our yard this year. It's the first time I've seen them.

Posted by: Peter - Washington County
on: 2021-07-21 22:40:52

This stuff grows everywhere in the woods here. I was shocked when I found out that it was native, as it's so aggressive and fast spreading. It's always one of the first volunteers after we clear buckthorn, and I appreciate its large leaves covering the soil and helping shade out buckthorn seedlings. After a few years, other native plants usually take its place, but I still welcome it when it shows up. Bees seem to love the flowers.

Posted by: Marie Hlava - Mazeppa
on: 2022-08-13 11:44:34

Found this growing on the North side of it garage by a wine cask planter. I have a photo also.

Posted by: Andy - Minneapolis
on: 2022-09-07 10:32:21

It's growing in shady spots that I tilled up last Fall. Pilewort, American Hog Peanut, and Canadian Black Snakeroot have all popped up in these recently disturbed areas.

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