Garden Gem: Jewelweed

This colorful annual is one cool plant.
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The most familiar blooms of jewelweed are orange with dark red spots. Others bloom a creamy yellow.

The most common color of jewelweed flowers is orange with red spots. Another favorite is a creamy yellow.

The most common color of jewelweed flowers is orange with red spots. Another favorite is a creamy yellow.

They don’t call it jewelweed for nothing. The “jewel” in the name salutes the beautiful little earbob-shaped flowers this annual produces; the “weed” part no doubt stems from the plant’s ability to reseed so prolifically when kept happy.

Others believe this native wildflower gets its name from its leaves, which during the night expel excess moisture, forming beads of water that glisten in the moonlight like little diamonds.

And then there’s the medicinal value of the plant, which makes it a gem. Some consider it a jewel because of its healing powers as a remedy for poison ivy, contending that rubbing the sap of its stem and leaves on the rash makes it vanish!

Regardless, jewelweed is one of those quirky plants that goes underutilized in the garden. A member of the impatiens family, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) looks nothing like the ubiquitous impatiens sold by the gazillions in garden centers, though like those popular annuals it’s a heavy drinker. For that reason, jewelweed is commonly found growing along stream beds or on the banks of ponds. In home gardens, a good location for it is near a water feature or even an air-conditioning unit.

Jewelweed, which likes sun or at least partial shade, can grow three to six feet tall and puts on its best show of color in late summer. Its most familiar type of bloom is an orange trumpet with deep red spots—a favorite with hummingbirds—while others sport creamy yellow flowers.

As its seeds mature the plant forms a seed pod that swells and when touched will burst, scattering small seeds everywhere, hence, the reason these impatiens are sometimes called touch-me-nots. Collect the seeds for sowing next spring because jewelweed is not commonly available in nurseries—mainly just seed catalogs—making this gem all the more precious.

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