Jewelweed: Impatiens capensis.
Commonly known as both spotted touch-me-not or jewelweed, this native wildflower is found in moist woods from Georgia to New Brunswick. In New York, it flowers in mid to late summer. Early morning dew droplets sparkling on the leaves give the plant its common name. The scientific name means impatient. and refers to the seed pods' explosive habit. This plant is a close relative of the shade-loving annual garden plant, Impatiens wallerana, an African wildflower.
Large numbers of seeds scattered widely in wet habitat result in dense colonies of two- to five-foot-tall plants. The tube-like flowers are frequently visited by hummingbirds and butterflies, which feed on the flowers" nectar.
A less common relative found in New York State, the pale touch-me-not, Impatiens pallida, has pale yellow flowers with shorter flower spurs.
The spotted touch-me-not often shares its habitat with poison ivy. Mother Nature sometimes produces her own natural remedies, and the juice of a touch-me-not neutralizes poison ivy's oily antigen, urushiol. The juice also reduces symptoms resulting from contact with stinging nettles (Urtica dioica), bug bites, and its fungicidal properties lead to its use as a treatment for athlete's foot.
Next time you find yourself in a lush stand of jewelweed. enjoying the flowers or jumping in surprise at an exploding seed pod. take heed-poison ivy may be nearby!
Editor's note: In late summer; I can't resist testing touch-me-not fruit for ripeness. When mature, the seed pod will explode at the slightest touch. Just as with a jack-in-the-box, I jump as the pod explodes, hurling its seeds far and wide.
Wildflower enthusiast Barbara Nuffer works in DEC's Division of Air Resources in Albany.