Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Flowers: Jewelweed or Touch-Me-Not

Impatiens capensis (and its closely-related sibling, Impatiens pallida, or Pale Touch-Me-Not) has a split personality.  According to Wildflowers and Plant Communities of the Southern Appalachian Moutnains and Piedmont (Spira 2011), I. capensis plants produce two types of flowers:  1) a showy bright orange flower about one inch long, which requires pollination by insects or hummingbirds and 2) a much smaller, inconspicuous flower that self-pollinates.  Plants in drier areas tend to produce more of the second type of flower, particularly later in the season.  The first kind of  flowers can be spotted or not and vary in their shade of orange. 

Once the flowers fade, I. capensis produces seed pods that fling seeds up to nine feet away when touched - the reason for the name, "Touch-Me-Not."  The plants can grow up to 5 feet tall and are found in moist places like ditches and near streams.  In spite of their size, the plants are actually annuals, growing from seed each year.  It is found throughout North America, except for the desert Southwest. 

I. capensis leaves can be crushed and used to relieve the itching caused by poison ivy and athlete's foot (by rubbing them on the affected area).  The berries are toxic, if ingested. 

 I. capensis on the Appalachian Trail near Chester Gap, VA (2011).
 I. capensis on the Weakley Hollow Fire Road at Old Rag in 2010.  This photo shows the leaves and a flower with few spots.
 I. capensis on the Catoctin Trail in Maryland in July 2011.
I. pallida, a close relative of I. capensis on Nicholson Hollow Trail in June 2011.  The main distinguishing characteristic of I. pallida is the yellow color of the flower.

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