Rodney Campbell, CC BY-ND 2.0

 You can find patches of the lovely native spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) thriving in the dappled sunshine along the edges of streams, ponds, swampy spots, and other moist shady places during the summer and autumn months. This succulent annual reaches heights of two to five feet while spreading its tender stems of toothed, pale green leaves. Its jewellike flowers hang delicately from long, slender stalks from July to September, attracting hummingbirds and bees to a favored nectar source.

Ansel Oommen,

The jewelweed’s one-inch irregular flower is an orange tubular sac with a recurved spur drooping down from the back. Two fused petals form the wide lower lip of the flower, creating the perfect place for an insect to land while collecting the nectar from the blossom. Colorful red spots splash across the spotted jewelweed’s orange surface, giving the plant its common name.

A long tongue is required to find the nectar deep within the jewelweed’s tubular flower. A hummingbird with its very long tongue has no problem. And bumblebees and honeybees also have tongues long enough to reach the nectar. But sometimes a bumblebee will cheat; it chews a hole in the back of the flower near the spur and sips the nectar from there.

Photo by MDC Staff, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation.

Touch the ripened, elongated seedpod of the jewelweed in the fall and the seeds are propelled at great velocity as the pod splits open - hence its nickname “touch-me-not.” (Let your planters of impatiens go to seed and you will find that they bear the same type of seedpods and will explode in the same fashion. Impatiens is Latin for impatient, a reference, no doubt, to these impatient seedpods.) Jewelweed seeds are eaten by upland gamebirds, such as Ruffed Grouse and Bobwhite, and by white-footed mice.

In the past, the jewelweed was also known as “silver leaf” – when its leaves are bathed in rain, droplets form, or when submerged in water, tiny air bubbles form on the surfaces, giving the plant a silvery appearance. But perhaps this plant is best known for its ability to neutralize the effects of poison ivy, stinging nettle, and bee stings. Break the hollow stem of a jewelweed and rub its juices onto the infected area to lessen the pain. This amazing and beneficial plant also contains a fungicide that is used to treat athlete’s foot.

Cindi Kobak