The rainy weather we’ve had this spring and summer has brought out an abundance of our native orange Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). Although a friend because of its medicinal properties and its function as habitat, this year it has become almost a foe because of its all-over abundance in gardens, parks and roadsides. A member of the Touch-Me-Not family (Balsaminaceae), it is often simply called Touch-me-Not.
Medicinally, I am aware that the watery sap from the stem and leaves relieves itching and pain from hives, poison ivy, stinging nettle and and insect bites when applied topically. Native Americans also used jewelweed as an eye medicine, a diuretic, a burn dressing, and as a yellow/orange dye.
Hummingbirds, butterflies and other insects cross-pollinate the showy flowers of the Spotted Jewelweed as they collect nectar. Caterpillars of various moths feed on the foliage, as do the White-Tail Deer. The large seeds are eaten by various gamebirds and woodland rodents.
Although an annual, because of its aggressive nature, jewelweed “is one of the few native North American plants that has been shown to compete successfully against Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), which is a non-native invasive weed that threatens many eastern North American forests.” (USDA Forest Service)
“Jewelweed is a widespread and common plant that occurs in moist, semi-shady areas throughout northern and eastern North America. It often forms dense, pure stands in floodplain forests and around the forested edges of marshes and bogs. Jewelweed also colonizes disturbed habitats such as ditches and road cuts.” (USDA Forest Service) And this year it has gone overboard because of the wet weather. I have jewelweed inside my fenced-in pool area and around the outside, around my deck, along the edges of my wet mesic prairie area, in my woodland and around our shrub gardens. It’s everywhere!
Spotted Jewelweed seedlings sprout in early spring. They begin flowering in mid-summer and produce seed and blossom continuously until frost kills the plant.
And they have two kinds of flowers. There is the showy orange to yellow spotted flowers with mottled reddish brown spots on the inside of the trumpet. It produces some seed. But, the other flower is a tiny petalless flower near the base of the leaves, that never opens, is self-fertilizing and produces an abundance of seed. When ripe, the seed pods from the flowers explode at a touch and send the tiny seeds in all directions. (Now you know where it gets its common name “Touch-Me-Not.”)
All in all, I love this unusual plant, but it’s not at the top of my list this year. I’m going to have to spend time pulling it out before it all goes to seed or I’ll have even more takeovers next year!