Jewelweed: A Native Gem for Pollinators and People

July 22nd, 2020

Impatiens capensis

Jewelweed is a common self-seeding native annual that grows widespread throughout North America. Named for its vibrant flowers, jewelweed sprouts inearly spring. Flowers bloom in mid-summer and continue until the first frost.

Hardy in Zones 2-11, it is well-suited for native plant gardeners, pollinator-friendly gardeners, and medicinal gardeners anywhere in the contiguous United States. Legend has it that European plant hunters in North America loved the flowers so much that they shipped seeds back home!

physical description

The orange-yellow flowers — sometimes peppered with red spots — distinguish this plant from other “touch-me-nots.” The flowers have five petals, though it may look like just three, and the “open mouth” offers a landing pad for many pollinating insects.

This species grows 2 to 5 feet in height. The leaves are green with a whitened underside and the shape is ovate with coarsely toothed margins and are usually 2 ½ to 3 inches long. They grow in an alternating pattern. The stems are smooth, upright, weak, and sometimes have a red tinge. After rain, the plant soaks up water and the stems become almost translucent.

Cross-pollination is required for the plant to produce its small, green fruit, which bursts open and spreads seed at the slightest touch; this is where it gets its nickname, “spotted touch-me-not.” Small flowers, which fertilize themselves without ever opening, may develop at the base of the plant in fall and produce small seeds.

habitat

Jewelweed prefers moist, semi-shady areas near streams and lakes and in disturbed areas such as ditches and roadsides. It has been shown to outcompete garlic mustard, a non-native invasive weed, and can be easily propagated by sowing seed directly in early fall.

In ideal conditions, jewelweed grows in dense stands and attracts bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.

This species is moderately deer resistant. It is low maintenance and very easy to control or corral by pulling.

images

 

All images licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

uses

Jewelweed doesn’t mind wet feet, so it makes a great addition to shady rain gardens or native plant gardens in partially-shaded areas with plenty of moisture. Because it is such a star at outcompeting other plants, it can be planted to suppress unwanted non-natives or fill in open areas. Once it is established, it will continue to return every year.

Jewelweed is well-documented as a medicinal plant among several Native American tribes, including the Cherokee. In modern-day folk and wilderness medicine, sap from the stem and leaves is applied topically to treat pain and/or itching from hives, poison ivy, insect bites, sunburn, and even unfortunate run-ins with stinging nettle.

protection status

Although conservation status is secure, humans are impacting the plant through destruction of wetland habitats, so it could become imperiled in the future. Help to maintain the security of Impatiens capensis by growing it on your
property and telling others about it!

interesting information

Jewelweed boasts a sugar content considerably higher than many other flowers favored by hummingbirds. In fact, the southbound migration of ruby-throated hummingbirds has been found to coincide with the availability of jewelweed’s
blooms.

The common eastern bumblebee AKA Bombus impatiens, considered one of the most important species of pollinator bees in North America, is named for one of its primary good sources: the genus Impatiens of which jewelweed is a member.

About the Author

Taylor Hinton-Ridling is a wildcrafter and native plant enthusiast in Chattanooga. She enjoys hiking and learning about plants, animals, and ecology at Reflection Riding.

Posted by Bess Turner  | Category: native plants
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