Coastal Fireweed

Erechtites hieraciifolius var. megalocarpus (Fern.) Cronq.

Stephen M. Young

Dicotyledoneae (Dicots)
Asteraceae (Aster Family)
State Protection
Listed as Endangered by New York State: in imminent danger of extirpation in New York. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Critically Imperiled in New York - Especially vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to extreme rarity or other factors; typically 5 or fewer populations or locations in New York, very few individuals, very restricted range, very few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or very steep declines.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Vulnerable globally - The subspecies/variety is at moderate risk of extinction due to rarity or other factors; typically 80 or fewer populations or locations in the world, few individuals, restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or recent and widespread declines. (The species as a whole is common globally.)


Did you know?

The Latin genus name was traditionally treated as grammatically feminine but the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (naming code) states that names ending in "-ites" are to be treated as masculine. (Weldy, Troy and David Werier 2010). Therefore the species name has been changed from hieraciifolia in previous lists to hieraciifolius.

State Ranking Justification

There are four existing populations but many thousands of plants on Fishers Island in the Long Island Sound. More populations are expected to be found on the North Fork and elsewhere on Eastern Long Island with more intensive surveys. There is only one, possibly two, historical records from the early 1900s.

Short-term Trends

There is not enough recent information to assess short-term trends.

Long-term Trends

This plant has always been rare on Long Island and more populations are being found than were historically known.

Conservation and Management


There are no current threats known.

Research Needs

Research is needed to find out if this species is intermixed with the common variety or whether it can be assumed that plants found along saltmarshes are always the rare variety.



Plants occur on the upper edge of beaches in sand, gravel, and cobbles and sometimes border small brackish marshes and shrub thickets (New York Natural Heritage Program 2012). Saline coastal marshes (Gleason and Cronquist 1991).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • High salt marsh* (guide)
    A coastal marsh community that occurs in sheltered areas of the seacoast, in a zone extending from mean high tide up to the limit of spring tides. It is periodically flooded by spring tides and flood tides. High salt marshes typically consist of a mosaic of patches that are mostly dominated by a single graminoid species.
  • Maritime beach (guide)
    A community with extremely sparse vegetation that occurs on unstable sand, gravel, or cobble ocean shores above mean high tide, where the shore is modified by storm waves and wind erosion.
  • Maritime shrubland (guide)
    A shrubland community that occurs on dry seaside bluffs and headlands that are exposed to offshore winds and salt spray.

* probable association but not confirmed.

Associated Species

  • Amaranthus
  • Atriplex
  • Chamaesyce polygonifolia
  • Dysphania ambrosioides (Mexican-tea)
  • Euthamia
  • Honckenya peploides
  • Lathyrus japonicus
  • Persicaria lapathifolia (dock-leaved smartweed)
  • Solanum ptychanthum (eastern black nightshade)
  • Solidago sempervirens (northern seaside goldenrod)


New York State Distribution

This tall herb has only been found in Suffolk County on the North Fork of Long Island, Plum Island, and Fishers Island.

Global Distribution

This herb is restricted to the coastal marshes of New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

Identification Comments

General Description

This plant is an erect, coarse herb up to 2 meters tall. The leaves are succulent, alternate on the upper stem while the lower ones often wither at flowering time. They are 6-20 cm long and 2-8 cm wide and without petioles. The margins are coarsely toothed and sometimes weakly lobed. They become smaller as you move up the stem and look like clasping bracts. There are 2-20 heads in the inflorescence and the involucre is long and tube-shaped with a swollen base. There are no ray flowers and white to yellowish disc flowers. The white fluffy pappus is very conspicuous in fruit. The fruit is 4-5 mm long with 16-20 nerves. Sometimes there are small hairs between the nerves (FNA 2006).

Best Life Stage for Proper Identification

The best time to identify this species is in late in the season when it is in fruit.

Similar Species

The more common variety hieraciifolius is an upland plant with stems and leaves that are dry or turgid but not succulent. Its receptacles are 5-8 mm in diameter instead of 9-12 mm and the fruits are 2.3-3 mm long, not 4-5 mm. In addition, they have only 10-12 nerves on each face, not 16-20 like var. megalocarpus.

Best Time to See

This species comes up during the summer and flowers in late July through early September. It fruits in late September through October.

  • Flowering
  • Fruiting

The time of year you would expect to find Coastal Fireweed flowering and fruiting in New York.

Coastal Fireweed Images


Coastal Fireweed
Erechtites hieraciifolius var. megalocarpus (Fern.) Cronq.

  • Kingdom Plantae
    • Phylum Anthophyta
      • Class Dicotyledoneae (Dicots)
        • Order Asterales
          • Family Asteraceae (Aster Family)

Additional Common Names

  • Pilewort


  • Erechtites megalocarpa Fern.

Comments on the Classification

In agreement with article 62.4 of the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature (McNeill et al. 2006), Erechtites is masculine because it ends in ites and therefore adjectival specific epithets are to be modified to have a masuline ending (i.e. E. hier

Additional Resources

Best Identification Reference

Flora of North America Editorial Committee. 2006. Flora of North America North of Mexico. Vol. 20. Magnoliophyta: Asteridae, Part 7: Asteraceae, part 2. Oxford Univ. Press, New York. xxii + 666 pp.

Other References

Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's manual of botany. 8th edition. D. Van Nostrand, New York. 1632 pp.

Gleason, Henry A. and A. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. 910 pp.

Holmgren, Noel. 1998. The Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. Illustrations of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.

Mitchell, Richard S. and Gordon C. Tucker. 1997. Revised Checklist of New York State Plants. Contributions to a Flora of New York State. Checklist IV. Bulletin No. 490. New York State Museum. Albany, NY. 400 pp.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2010. Biotics database. New York Natural Heritage Program. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Weldy, T. and D. Werier. 2010. New York flora atlas. [S.M. Landry, K.N. Campbell, and L.D. Mabe (original application development), Florida Center for Community Design and Research University of South Florida]. New York Flora Association, Albany, New York


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Stephen M. Young

Information for this guide was last updated on: March 1, 2012

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Erechtites hieraciifolius var. megalocarpus. Available from: Accessed April 16, 2024.