The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 31, 2007



Name. Jewelweed is in the same genus as the common garden Impatiens. There are two wild native ones, a yellow one called Impatiens pallida and this orange-spotted one called Impatiens capensis and sometimes Impatiens biflora because the flowers are often in pairs. The two predominant cultivated species are native to Africa and Asia. The wild native jewelweed is also known by the common names of touch-me-not and snapweed — more on that later. The leaves are water-repellent and after a rain you can find the remaining water has been pushed into spherical shapes and is sitting up on the leaves like beads, hence the name jewelweed.

This jewelweed flower was found near the Greenough barn. (Photo by Kay Fairweather)

When and where seen. Spotted jewelweed is a common wildflower and can be seen in damp places all around town. The photographs were taken in the Greenough Land on August 27 where there are large stands of it near the barn and here and there around the pond. The long bloom season means you are quite likely to find flowers and seed pods on the same plant.

Identification. The plant is easiest to recognize when it is flowering. It has orange trumpet-shaped flowers spotted with red. The flowers hang from a long thin flower stalk and are about an inch long with an inward-curving spur. The red spots attract pollinating insects like butterflies and moths who can reach the nectar at the back of the trumpet tube. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are also frequent visitors. The plant is usually anywhere from two to five feet tall but some near the Greenough barn are over six feet tall. The stalks are hollow and yield a clear watery fluid.

Seed dispersal. The names snapweed and touch-me-not both refer to the sudden explosive nature of the seed dispersal method. When a ripe seed pod is just lightly touched, the sides of the pod suddenly split and twist. A lot of energy is released, and the seeds are flung quite a distance, leaving behind just the stalk now wrapped in tightly coiled strips of pod. You can get this to happen even when the pods are not ripe if you squeeze them.
These are jewelweed seedpods. The top pod is intact, the lower one has exploded, expelling the seeds and leaving the walls tightly twisted. This is why the jewelweed is sometimes called the "touch-me-not" plant. (Photo by Kay Fairweather)

Steve Brill, a master forager, says the seeds are edible and have a walnut flavor. The ones I found were not yet ripe, so I didn't try them.

Uses. Jewelweed has a long history of use as a treatment for skin itches caused by insect bites, poison ivy, nettles or other irritants. It is also reputed to prevent a poison ivy rash if applied soon after contact. You break the jewelweed stem and squeeze the moisture onto your skin. It contains the same active ingredient as in Preparation H. Steve Brill has a procedure in his book explaining how to make your own ointment from a handful of stems.

References. Wyman's Garden Encyclopedia, Donald Wyman; Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, Lawrence Newcomb; Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places, Steve Brill.

Submissions for the Biodiversity Corner are encouraged from everyone. What are you finding? Send a note to Kay Fairweather at 392 School Street, Carlisle MA 01741 or to

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito