Impatiens capensis

Orange jewelweed is common across much of Canada and the United States. It is found in moist soils, often in ditches and along streams. Its close relative Impatiens pallida, which differs primarily in having pale yellow flowers, shares its eastern range. Both plants bloom for a few months from mid-summer to fall, attracting hummingbirds, bees and various other insects. The flowers are two and a half cm (1 in.) long and have a conical shape, with upper and lower lips at the open end. As in other flowers, the lower lips serve as a landing pad for insects. Impatiens capensis is also called touch-me-not, referring to an action caused by touching the seed pods: the pods expel the seed as projectiles when touched. The images in the link to the Impatiens pallida page show a view of the seed pod before and after this process.

Jewelweed has traditionally been used to treat skin irritations–notably reactions to poison ivy and nettles, which often grow in the same areas. Controlled studies have not shown the plant to be an effective treatment for these conditions. Research has found fungicidal properties in the plant however, and it has been used to treat athlete’s foot.

I took this photo in early August. I had visited the visitor centre before and enjoyed its wonderful displays about the ecology of the Adirondacks. On this visit, I was informed that budget cuts were closing the centre–I think it is to close October 10. I believe the property will be managed by Paul Smiths College, but have no idea if they will open any trails to the public.

Impatiens capensis

15 responses to “Impatiens capensis”

  1. Bob Borquist

    The orange jewelweed is truly a beautiful flower, your email of Oct. 5 2010. You note that it is common in the US and Canada. I live in the Seattle, WA area and would like to have some starts, or seeds. Do you know if they are commercially available? Are they shade or sun loving, damp or dry soil? I can look when I am out in the woods. I grow what is commercially availabe as “impatients” in pots in the shade and they are a winner.
    Thanks, keep it up,

  2. Barbara Rokeby

    Is this species invasive? I know we have some invasive types here in British Columbia.

  3. Mtn Laurel

    For the longest time I thought this plant was poisonous or at least an irritant itself, because I’d always heard the common name as “Touch-me-not”. I was surprised to hear that it’s a folk remedy for skin irritation – since then, I’ve heard explanations for the “touch-me-not” name as either for use as keeping bugs away, or possibly referring to seed dispersal? I’m not sure, but it is a lovely side-of-the-road “weed” around here.

  4. Mtn Laurel

    Oh dear, I think this is the second time I’ve commented on here without actually reading the caption, which had the answer to my question … and is also a shame, since the captions are so well-written and educational. Oops … I’ll just keep my mouth shut …

  5. Dana

    This is mostly to Bob, although I doubt he will be back to check on this answer.
    I have been keeping an eye out for this plant ever since I heard it is a woodland native in the US. Most of my flowerbeds are woodland in their exposure.
    Whenever I wonder about the native or naturalized distribution of a plant, I Google USDA PLANTS and the first item is usually Welcome to the PLANTS Database/USDA PLANTS. It is a great site if you want the listing of all plants that grow in North America. I clicked on Washington state, and as I suspected, this plant does grow on the west side in the Seattle area and does not grow on the east side when the state is dry.
    Bob, the “Impatients” you grow in containers are probably Impatiens walleriana (which are often misspelled even at nurseries), which also will shoot the seeds when the swollen pods are touched (although many of the hybrids available on the market now do not produce seed pods).

  6. Rick

    Folks looking for this plant in the Pacific Northwest should keep their eyes peeled for its noxious relative, Impatiens glandulifera, or policman’s helmet, which has pink flowers. Seed collectors should be appropriately careful. More info at:
    I’ve see orange jewelweed growing in thickets in bottomland hardwood forests, often near patches of nettle.

  7. LisaS

    This photo brought back memories of my childhood in New Jersey, where Imatiens pallida was common. In addition to using liquid from the crushed stems to prevent poison ivy (I was told you had to use it after exposure but before a rash developed), we’d also eat the seeds which had a slightly nutty flavor.

  8. elizabeth a airhart

    i was born elizabeth nj lisaS live in florida now and i do know this plant
    the usa celebrating wild flowers page has added an ethnobotany page
    tis a fine site to visit – budget cuts are every where our bookmobile
    will no longer be out and about we are lucky to have this page for sure
    a lovely beauty to greet the day and end the evening the comments
    are interesting and not so rude as other sites -thankyou bonjour

  9. Autumn

    I have found seeds available at Prairie Moon Nursery :

  10. Bill Barnes

    Along the Susquehana River in Central Pennsylvania Impatiens pallida can be found with white flowers . Never saw this anywhere else so the population seems to be isolated . White is commonly a ressive gene and might be restricted in distribution. Have never seen off color in I. capenis though except to see some that have flowers bordering on pure red.

  11. Bonnie

    I grew up around this plant in PA and often used it for poison ivy. Worked for me. Of course it was used immediately after encountering the ivy. 🙂

  12. Gabrielle

    Jewelweed is abundant here (RI) in any moist shady area. We did rub it on poison ivy but also made ice cubes from water in which we had simmered the leaves and stems. Very soothing, whether it’s actually effective or not!

  13. Melissa in South Carolina

    Certainly not the regular garden-variety of impatiens we have in the shops in SC! Amazing JEWEL colors and reminding me a lot of snapdragons.

  14. Ed Alverson

    Impatiens capensis is an introduced and invasive species in the Pacific Northwest, west of the Cascades. Peter Zika addressed this issue in a 2006 paper, “The status of Impatiens capensis (Balsaminaceae) on the
    Pacific Northwest coast”, published in the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Club, vol. 133 pp. 593-600. In fact, I. capensis is spreading into the habitats of the uncommon native I. ecalcarata west of the Cascades, and the two species are hybridizing. This has created a situation where the native species is potentially being out-competed by both the introduced species and by their hybrids. Zika has published another paper on the hybrid, which he has named Impatiens x pacifica, see “Impatiens x pacifica (Balsaminaceae), a New Hybrid jewelweed from the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America”, Novon vol. 16, pp. 443-448, 2006.

  15. Dominic Maze

    Thank you Ed,
    I’ve personally seen this nasty weed dominating the understory in places along the Willamette River here in western Oregon. Do not order seed, plant this, or otherwise encourage its survival in the Pac NW, please!

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