Friday, August 7, 2009

Jewelweed Gleams in the Woods

It's Jewelweed time, and both the orange-colored Spotted (Impatiens capensis) and the yellow Pale (I. pallida) are now in bloom. If you see either one of them blooming along your path, be sure to stop and take a closer look. Even on days when the weather is dry, they may be exuding a crystalline drop that gleams like a jewel in the damp shady areas where they grow. Perhaps that's how they got their name.

One interesting fact about these plants is that, unlike the vast majority of our wildflowers, they are annuals, growing up to great heights (often six feet or more) entirely from seed each summer. They love marshy spots, where they crowd out all their competition with dense stands. According to John Eastman, who writes about these plants in his Book of Swamp and Bog, "this situation -- an annual species achieving persistent habitat dominance over long-lived perennials -- is unusual in plant ecology."

If you're susceptible to Poison Ivy, it's a good idea to know where to find Jewelweed. Their stems and leaves are succulent with an astringent fluid that can neutralize the toxic oils that cause Poison Ivy rashes. Just mash up a bunch and smear it on where your skin has been exposed. I've heard it works to relieve the itch of insect bites as well.

Another name for Jewelweed is Touch-me-not, which undoubtedly comes from the way the ripe seed pods behave. These pods hang from the plants like fat little beans, and all you have to do is just touch them and POW! they explode between your fingers, the outside splitting and curling back like tiny coiled springs, while the seeds inside are catapulted outward. Since this is the way the plant spreads its seeds, you'd think it would rather be called Touch-me-Please. (:D) Anyway, if you manage to catch some seeds as they fly, peel back the coating and inside you'll find a tiny bean of the loveliest robin's-egg blue. There's nothing about these plants that isn't beautiful.


suep said...

There's another theory on how they got their name, from how water or dew beads up on the leaves after a rain - very pretty!
This was like a walk in the woods for me - thanks!

Lindsey said...

Great close-ups! Spotted Jewelweed is one of my favorites. Besides looking at the dew/rain droplets on the leaves (the best is when each point on the serrated edge has a small bead of water), I like to peek inside all of the flowers to find insects - today I found an ant in almost every flower.

The ones in the yard here popped up in the spot that I continually dumped birdbath water onto! I have found that they work for those itchy insect bites, whether placebo or not, I'm glad.