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Don't Touch Me!

Impatiens capensis aka Jewelweed

Growing natives at the ranch just makes sense. As good stewards of the forest, we try to minimally hinder the naturally occurring cycles that have created the beautiful woodlands we enjoy so much. One of our favorite natives, which the goats don’t seem to want to ingest, is known as Jewelweed. This fun plant, Impatiens capensis, goes by a variety of common names including: the orange jewelweed, common jewelweed, spotted jewelweed, jewelweed, spotted touch-me-not, orange balsam, etc. While the orange or ‘spotted’ variety is the most common, yellow jewelweed exists as well. This plant is an annual (only lives one year, then dies) and is most prolific in damp areas such as bottomlands, ditches, creekbanks, etc. however our patch is up on the ridge next to the house without the benefit of excess moisture in the soil.

This 2-5 foot plant is often found growing near poison ivy, which is convenient as some folks claim the mashed plant and its juices help treat or prevent poison ivy outbreaks. Even the WebMD website has information regarding the medicinal properties of jewelweed, however most of these types of places claim, “more evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of jewelweed for these uses.” While most people haven’t reported any side effects when applying directly to the skin, use caution if you are trying this natural healing approach.

This plant is also much loved by pollinators—bumblebees, butterflies, hummingbirds, hoverflies, etc. It blooms from mid-summer until frost and is visited by a variety of insects and usually left alone by rabbits, deer, and even our goats! From the U.S. Forest Service website, “the showy orange flowers of jewelweed must be cross-pollinated by insects or hummingbirds. However, jewelweed also has inconspicuous flowers that never open. These flowers (termed cleistogamous by botanists) fertilize themselves and produce seed without ever exchanging pollen with another flower. Cleistogamous flowers are very small (about 1 mm long) and are borne near the bases of the leaves. Research has shown that seeds produced by the showy, cross-pollinated flowers grow into larger, hardier plants, but the cleistogamous flowers produce seed at a much lower cost to the parent plant.”

Jewelweed self-seeds readily and your patch will continue to grow throughout the years. The seed pods become touch sensitive and may shoot seeds up to 6 feet away from the parent plant. It's a joy to brush up against the plant and watch all the seeds fly when the pods are fully ripe.

Thankfully, it’s shallow roots allow for easy removal if you find them in unwanted locations.

Seed pods that have exploded...both green and black seeds appear.

I encourage you to give jewelweed a try if you are looking for a native plant that can tolerate mostly sunny (be prepared to water) to mostly shade. This is an understory species found naturally in Indiana and will therefore thrive in a variety of conditions without a lot of attention from the gardener.

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