With fall colors still some weeks away, consider taking a late-summer creekside walk for an early burst of orange, where showy displays of Impatiens capensis, more commonly known as orange jewelweed, are sure to delight. This lovely annual blooms in bottomland soils from early summer through fall, boasting three petals that join in a slipper-shaped spur. The red spots on the orange petals attract pollinators such as butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds, whose long tongues can easily reach the flower’s sweet nectar. Jewelweed’s elliptical, coarsely toothed leaves turn silvery when immersed in water, a trick that will delight youngsters. Wrap your hand tightly around the blossoms in late summer and fall for an edible treat—jewelweed’s seeds, released by mechanical dispersion, have a walnut flavor. Just be sure to discard the coiled “springs” before tasting!
Jewelweed is one of many treasures in “nature’s medicine chest.” The succulent stems, which can grow up to five feet, contain a clear, watery liquid with anti-inflammatory and fungicidal properties. Applied topically, the liquid relieves itching associated with mosquito bites, bee and wasp stings, and poison ivy and nettle rashes. Jewelweed is even purported to prevent rashes from developing if applied immediately after contact with noxious plants. Simply squeeze liquid from the stems directly onto a rash or bite. Jewelweed can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, or chopped and frozen (add a little water first) in ice cube trays for several months.
While jewelweed is undeniably a jewel of a plant, its name actually refers to the glistening beads of water that form on its water-repellant leaves after a rainfall. To see jewelweed in bloom at the Arboretum, look beneath the main bridge or take a walk on the wetland boardwalk. The sooner, the better: bloom time lasts only a few more weeks.
Attention parents, grandparents, and teachers of young naturalists! Fancy Nancy: Poison Ivy Expert, by Jane O’Connor, is a great read, and jewelweed plays a starring role!
by Jenny Houghton
Youth Program Coordinator