Tag Archive | Jewelweed

Jewelweed Revisited

j1The entire embankment in front of our house is bright with orange jewelweed flowers.  Bees and hummingbirds visit all day.  j4The bees crawl up inside the flower after nectar until just their hind ends are visible. The nectar is deep inside the back of the flower in the curl.j5  It must be plentiful and sweet because the honey and bumble bees put a lot of effort into getting inside the flower cone. The hummingbirds spar over rights to the area, although there is plenty of room and flowers for all.

Since the last piece I wrote about this plant, I have paid particular attention to its growth habits.  I have come to believe that the idea of jewelweed producing round flowers that never open and also that these odd flowers become the seed pods is not accurate.  I find no round flowers that never open.  I’ve watched flowers develop from the tiny ball-like buds, reach their peak and go by to leave a long, slim fruiting body that thickens to develop into the seed case.  The photo below shows the round buds and full-blown flowers.  These round buds definitely develop into the flower. j3
j2When the seed cases are ripe, they are sensitive to the slightest physical disturbance, hence the plant’s alternate name: Touch-Me-Not. A slight touch sends seeds bursting away in all directions. I collected some of the ripe, brown seeds and tasted them, since they are edible.  j6The seeds do taste remarkably like walnuts, right down to the distinctive astringency of the skin on walnut meat.  It would take a long time to collect enough jewelweed seeds to make a meal, but they are a yummy treat.

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Jewelweed

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Jewelweed, or Touch-Me-Not, as I’ve always called it, is a native North American wildflower (Impatiens capensis) with many uses.  The beautiful little spotted orange fairy hat-like flowers are favored by hummingbirds.  a1I allow a large patch of jewelweed to grow in an uneven, partially-shaded part of my yard, just for the hummingbirds.

When the jewelweed begins to bloom, the tiny birds abandon the sugar water feeder for the flowers.  Nectar is a better source of hummingbird nutrition than anything humans create.  The nectar gathers in the curled receptacle at the far end of the flower where long-tonged creatures like butterflies and hummingbirds can reach.  Other insects nibble a hole in the curl to get at the nectar.a4

Beyond feeding birds, this plant has many uses.  It is recognized as an anti-inflammatory for topical use.  The stem juice of the succulent annual can be rubbed on insect stings and rashes to bring relief.  The seeds are also edible and are reported to have a walnut-like flavor. I’ve never tried any.

The reason this plant is called Touch-Me-Not is due to the seed cases.  The plant has two types of flowers, one with petals and one that is rounded and doesn’t open petals.  When this round flower matures, it produces a long case resembling a pea pod.  A light touch causes the case to explode, its sections curling tightly and at the same time spraying the seeds for distribution. When I was small I delighted in popping the seed pods.  Still do, actually.a3

The name Jewelweed is attributed to either the jewel-like colors of the flower or the water-repellent quality of the plant.  Water beads on the surfaces and when the sun shines, the droplets glimmer like diamonds.  I took some photos after a rain to demonstrate the water repellency.

This unassuming little plant has been embraced by the natural remedies crowd.  It apparently contains a chemical that is the active ingredient in Preparation H. The anti-inflammatory and anti-pruritic qualities of the plant juice are captured in salves, tinctures and soaps. Reportedly, the Native Americans depended on this plant, a natural pharmacy growing in the woods.a5
****UPDATE: I have since written an update to this blog (Aug 23, 2014) and believe the information in this article about how the plant produces seeds is incorrect. The round flowers are the buds and they develop into full flowers. The seed pods form at the end of the stem after the flower drops.****