By Kris Gasteiger
In my back yard, I have a patch of Impatiens. Not the kind you buy at the home center or nursery, but the native, wild variety, Impatiens biflora (I. capensis) or Spotted Jewelweed.
I treasure this plant. It grows about four feet tall and forms a rather dense thicket in the corner of the backyard under the Dawn Redwood. In August, it begins to flower with lovely spotted orange flowers. The flowers aren't exactly showy or numerous, but they do provide a bit of bright color in a shady corner. Jewelweed will flower almost until the first frost, when it then collapses and dies. I let the plants compost in place, ensuring that I'll have a good seed bed for the next season.
This Impatiens doesn't seem to be affected by the Downy Mildew that is making growing the bedding varieties (Impatiens walleriana cultivars) so iffy these days. When I worked for the City of Bowie, MD, I used to grow the bedding variety in beds throughout Bowie. The last couple of years, I wasn't even able to get them from the nurseries, the nurseries couldn't grow them due to the mildew problem.
Anyway, this Spotted Jewelweed... One of the reasons I love it is that it attracts our native Humming Bird, the Rubythroat. I'll often see the leaves trembling in a small area of the Jewelweed patch. Looking closely, I'll find a Rubythroat sipping nectar. The breeze off the birds wings causes the localized trembling of the leaves. Delightful! Large bees are also visitors to Jewelweed's flowers. I've especially noted Carpenter Bees and Bumble Bees visiting. These are great pollinators for the Squash and Tomato blossoms.
Spotted Jewelweed has a yellow-flowered cousin, Yellow or Pallid Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida), which grows in the same conditions as Spotted Jewelweed. While I don't have this one in my garden, I've seen it in moist shady places around Bowie. It too is a Hummingbird and Bee magnet. Good to have to encourage pollinators to visit your garden.
Jewelweed is also useful as an anti Poison Ivy wash. You can take the very watery stems, crush them and use the pulp to wash your skin where you have been exposed to Poison Ivy. It will even help a bit with an established Poison Ivy rash.
The seeds of Jewelweed are edible, though little worth the effort, other than for a nibble as you are out in the yard. Cup you hands around the pods and let them explode, catching the seeds if you can. They are tasty, but its hard to get very many.
Jewelweed is a beautiful plant to have in a shady, moist corner of any garden. It will self-seed and come back every year, but is easy to weed out when it jumps its bounds.
About the Author
Kris Gasteiger gardens in Bowie, MD. Kris edited Bowie Crofton Garden Club's newsletter and wrote articles for it under the Green Man monicker for about seven years. He can be reached at email@example.com.