Thursday, August 9, 2012


Jewelweeds -- © Dave Spier

First off, they're not weeds.  They're attractive native wildflowers. Second, and this is unfortunate, they are not jewels.  The name comes from water's inability to wet the leaves, so after a rain or morning dew, beads of water rest on the surface and scatter light like diamonds.  The plant's alternate name, touch-me-not, refers to the small seed pods that spring open and eject the seeds if you touch them when plump and ripe.

There are two species based on color.The dangling, one-inch flowers [roughly the length and width] of the yellow version, also called Pale Touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida) have a tail-spur that points down.  It's mostly found in limestone regions with alkaline soils and prefers damp locations like wooded flood plains and shady ravines with a steady supply of moisture.

The orange species, a.k.a. Spotted Touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis) is spotted with reddish-brown and the longer spur curves under the tail.  It is normally common and widespread but given its preference for damp ground and ditches, it's struggling this year with the drought.  The ones in my woods have long withered and died.

Impatiens are succulents with translucent green stems.  Crushed leaves and stem juice (particularly from the Orange Jewelweed) are folk remedies for poison ivy rash, insect bites, nettles, minor burns and cuts.

Young shoots in spring and the stems and leaves in summer can be eaten as cooked greens.  Boil in two changes of water and discard the water.

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tigernan said...

In NH this summer, we went searching for moose and stopped by a pond for lunch. While there, a hummingbird almost flew in my face as I was quietly sitting in our van. In searching for its food source, I noticed it was feeding on the orange jewelweed you described and which I wondered what it was! Thanks for sharing!

The Northeast Naturalist said...

Thank you, tigernan. I wrote a slightly different version of this for my Adirondack blog [URL below] and included a photo of a hummingbird at orange jewelweed in the Adirondacks, a somewhat similar environment to NH. The White Mountains are another of our favorite destinations.