Jewelweed Growing, Planting, Facts & Care (Impatiens capensis)
Impatiens capensis is a beautiful flowering plant that would thrive right along a pond’s moist edge. It is commonly referred to as jewelweed, spotted touch-me-not, and orange balsam. Though quite distinct in terms of appearance, this species is often confused with another plant that goes by the same common name and falls under the same genus (Impatiens walleriana). Make sure that you don’t confuse the two, as the latter is notorious for being an invasive plant.
Both of these plants belong to the large Balsam family (Balsaminaceae) of flowering annuals and perennials. Native to Eastern North America and recently naturalized in Europe, jewelweed is one of this family’s most notable members. Its scientific name is synonymous with Impatiens biflora and Impatiens fulva.
Jewelweed blooms are definitely a stand-out in any location. Peer closely at their solitary forms, and you’ll find that the speckled petals are anything but ordinary. Glowing bright orange under full sunlight, the flowers are distinguished by three sepals and five petals. The largest sepal extends toward the hind part of the flower and forms a cone-shaped pouch. Extending from this pouch is a hooked nectar spur that appears to defy gravity. In contrast, this plant’s oval-shaped blue-green leaves have toothed margins and occur alternately along a thin stem. At maturity, the watery stems can reach a height of 2 – 5 feet (61 – 152 cm).
Facts, Benefits & Uses of Jewelweed
This species has earned its common name from the appearance of raindrops or dew drops, which resemble sparkling jewels, on the surface of its leaves. Jewelweed is an absolute gem to have in your garden because its blooms continually crop up from mid-summer to fall or until the first frosts occur. The vivid flowers attract many pollinators – hummingbirds and bumblebees are their definitive targets. These must cross-pollinate the flowers to induce fruit production. The fruits of this plant are capsule-like and readily discharge seeds to a distance of up to 1.5 meters.
Jewelweed naturally occurs in boggy areas. Due to its self-seeding capabilities, it has the tendency to form large colonies when moisture is constantly provided. This feature makes this species an ideal edge plant for wildlife ponds! Its uses aren’t limited to its visual benefits, however, as it also has well-known medicinal value. Native Americans once used the sap of this plant as an antidote for hives caused by plant allergies or insect bites. Moreover, the sap can be used as a treatment for athlete’s foot as it reportedly contains anti-fungal properties.
Jewelweed Growth, Hardiness & Climate
Impatiens capensis grows best in areas with moist soil and shade. It is an extremely common plant in canopied forests and wetland areas in the US and Canada. This hardy plant has the tendency to compete with even non-native invasive species as its thick colonies can suppress the growth of other plants. Keep in mind that jewelweed will likely self-seed in your garden; you may opt to remove seed capsules before they ripen.
Found in USDA zones 2 – 9, jewelweed tends to germinate once soils have warmed slightly in spring. Shoots quickly grow to produce a profusion of leaves and flowers in the summer. These remain present until autumn or winter, when the entire plant (including its tap root system) dies back. As it is an annual plant, consider storing some of the plant’s ripened capsules, particularly if your jewelweed colony is still small, so that you can replenish your pond-side or garden populations once the final frosts have thawed.
How to Plant Jewelweed
Jewelweed is commonly planted via seed, though this may require a somewhat lengthy germination process. If you live outside of this species’ native range, seeds may have to be prepared at least a year before you intend to out-plant this species. They can take a few months, including a stratification period, to germinate successfully. This cold period should resemble conditions that the seeds normally experience in the wild.
Once you have purchased seeds or collected them from ripened capsules, store them in a paper envelope or pouch. Don’t place them in an air-tight container as this may trap moisture and encourage fungal growth. Simulating cool outdoor temperatures is as simple as placing the seeds in your refrigerator! This chill treatment should last for at least 4 – 6 weeks, after which the seeds should readily germinate when exposed to a warmer set-up.
Sprinkle seeds on the surface of organically rich, moist soil. Ideally, the soil should be kept moist or slightly wet throughout the germination period. You can either place the seeds directly atop outside soil or in an indoor/cold frame set-up if you wish to establish them prior to spring and/or in a more orderly manner.
Once your jewelweed colonies are well-established outdoors, you need not collect the seeds and expose them to an artificially-induced cold period. Simply allow them to settle in the soil and watch them germinate after a few seasons have passed.
How to Care for Jewelweed
Jewelweed is remarkably easy to care for because it is extremely hardy and does not attract many pests. If you wish to limit the growth of your colonies, you will simply have to prune the shoots and prevent the plant from self-seeding copiously.
This species readily produces flowers without the addition of fertilizers or compost material. Just ensure that the roots are afforded ample moisture as they are unable to absorb enough nutrients from parched or dry soil. Stable jewelweed colonies can even withstand occasional flooding, making them ideal for filling in pondside spaces.
How to Winter Jewelweed
Jewelweed is an annual plant that naturally begins to die back as temperatures drop considerably. The plant must be re-reared from seed, which stays dormant throughout winter, in the coming spring. This species is seldom brought indoors and forced to survive through winter as its nutrient stores are understandably spent after months of flowering and producing seeds. Even its root systems are highly sensitive to the cold and will not produce new shoots towards the end of the year.
Unfortunately, a waiting game is involved when cultivating this plant. However, if you’re an eager gardener, your patience will surely be rewarded by another round of blooms throughout the growth periods of each consecutive year.
Is Jewelweed Invasive or Toxic?
Impatiens capensis is not necessarily considered an invasive plant, even in areas where its colonies have become naturalized. It can definitely be an aggressive grower, though! It is classified as a noxious weed in the state of Washington. Large populations of this plant can compete with other native and non-native species and are known for their potential to eradicate colonies of the invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Jewelweed is also known for spreading quickly in anthropogenically disturbed areas, as long as the soil remains moist. These areas include road cuts, ditches, and the edges of natural marshes or bogs.
Though it has several medicinal benefits, jewelweed may be toxic to some individuals, especially those with a predisposition to plant allergies. Interestingly, when used appropriately, the saponin-rich leaves can serve as a remedy to the same rashes they may cause. Consumption of the plant itself must be kept at a minimum, as its parts contain calcium oxalate crystals. When high quantities are consumed, the crystals can cause swelling or pain in the digestive organs.
Is Jewelweed Edible? Will Animals Eat it?
When young, the succulent stems of jewelweed are edible. As they contain crystals, they must be prepared and cooked properly to prevent irritation. The stems and leaves aren’t exactly notable for their taste, but knowledge of preparation may come in handy when faced with survival situations in the wild. Young plant parts must be boiled for at least 15 – 20 minutes and the pot water must be changed at least twice.
Fortunately, the flowers and seeds of the plant can be consumed without cooking. The seeds supposedly taste similar to walnuts, but are considerably more bitter. Keep in mind that the seeds, along with the leaves and shoots, must be consumed in minute quantities to prevent any undesirable aches and pains! As this species tends to be widespread in the wild, several animals regard its shoots, leaves, and seeds as an optional nutrient source. Deer are known for grazing on the leaves and shoots, whereas mice and birds may feast on the bitter seeds.
Where to Buy Jewelweed & Seeds? (UK & US)
Plant nurseries may occasionally carry potted Impatiens capensis seedlings or pre-stratified seeds that are ready for germination. Mature plants may be more difficult to find in stores, even if they are located in the plant’s native range, because this wildflower is an annual plant. If you wish to purchase this plant, you would have more luck searching for viable seeds through online stores. Pay attention to the plant’s species epithet as jewelweed can refer to other invasive plants or Impatiens species.