Hairy Willow-herb (Epilobium hirtigerum), an ephemeral Australian native plant whose lifeways flit between areas of disturbance.
Hairy Willow-herb is adapted to exploit sites of short-lived disturbance. In this case, that disturbance regime can be generalised as seasonally waterlogged soils kept bare by other factors. This makes it possible for the species to grow as an urban weed. Normally a perennial species, it can also function as an annual in particularly tough conditions, like those prevalent in urban gutters. This ephemerality would also tend to make its ‘normal’ ecology relatively cryptic and unloved by comparison to better-known indigenous wild flowers.
While believed to have originated in Australia, Hairy Willow-herb spread to New Zealand and to parts of South America on prevailing westerly winds, and is treated as a species native to both places (it was first collected by a European botanist in Uruguay in 1767). In New Zealand, the species is treated as endangered, although it is possible this has as much to do with ‘natural scarcity’ stemming from the mode of its introduction from Australia as it does with land use and cover changes stemming from both the British invasion and 20th century urbanisation.
In Victoria, Hairy Willow-herb is a common and widespread plant in conditions that tick the boxes damp and disturbed, typically riparian floodplains but also extending to disturbed woodlands and to urban pavements, bluestone gutters and blasted verges. Indeed, the locality descriptions of past Melbourne-area collections paint an excellent picture: ‘in waste places,’ ‘rough ground by side of streets,’ ‘garden weed,’ ‘growing in damp mud beside the vehicle track,’ ‘weedy ground of either backyard or roadside,’ ‘side of Sydney-Melbourne Road.’ The photos here show it in various urban contexts, and in the Gresswell woodland where it was growing in a disturbed patch in proximity to the exotic willow-herbs Epilobium hirsutum and Epilobium ciliatum.