Cape Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)
This rustic, but pretty, flower is common to much of North America. The petals form a pouch with a hooked spur, and it hangs on tall slender leggy stems that can reach up to 5 feet. Hummingbirds, bumblebees, and butterflies are attracted by its interesting shape and spotted bright orange petals. The green ripe pendant seed pods explode at the slightest touch, explains its alternate name “spotted touch-me-not”.
It has a long season, sprouting in early spring, with blooms starting in mid-summer until killed by frost, leaving it one of the few blooms still around in the fall. Jewelweed foliage has a long history of topical use in Native cultures for relieving skin irritations, including poison ivy.
The plant, sometimes in large masses, can be found in moist semi-shaded forested along the water’s edge. It also commonly colonizes disturbed habitats and urban parks (where we often find it). We initially suspected it was non-native, but in fact it is a native North American plant that, because it is an aggressive competitor, is used to push out non-native invasive weeds in both forests and cultivated gardens.
Oddly enough, although the showy flowers are pollinated by traditional means, Jewelweed also contains inconspicuous self-pollinating “flowers” that never open, borne near the leaf base, which produce seeds. This cleistogamous trait, shared with legumes (peanuts, peas, beans), allows a secondary way to set seed using less plant resources.