Spotted Touch-Me-Not (Jewelweed)

Impatiens capensis

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Photo of spotted touch-me-not or jewelweed flower.
The flowers of spotted touch-me-not are orange with red or reddish-brown spots. They are shaped like a cornucopia.
Family

Balsaminaceae (touch-me-nots)

Description

Soft plants, much-branched, with watery stems. Flowers orange with red or reddish-brown spots; shaped like a cornucopia; with 3 unequal sepals, 2 of them small, the third a sack with a spur; 5 petals, appearing as 3 (as the laterals are joined), each with 2 lobes; stamens joined to the stigma; each flower hanging from a slender stem. The conical portion of the flower is usually about twice as long as it is wide. Blooms June–September. Leaves alternate, soft, egg-shaped, bluish-green, coarsely toothed, to 3½ inches long. Fruit a slender capsule which, upon drying or when touched, contracts, coils and splits explosively, casting seeds far away in all directions.

Similar species: Pale touch-me-not (I. pallida) has lemon yellow flowers, and the conical portion of the flower is about as long as it is wide, with a shorter spur. Without seeing the flowers, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the two species.

Size

Height: to 5 feet.

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Photo of spotted touch-me-not, ripe fruit, ready to explosively dehisce.
Spotted Touch-Me-Not (Jewelweed) Fruit
The fruit of spotted touch-me-not is a slender capsule. When it ripens, a slight touch causes it to split open explosively.

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Photo of jewelweed seed pod remains, after it explosively broke apart.
Spotted Touch-Me-Not (Jewelweed) Fruits, Exploded!
Here is what remains of a jewelweed’s seed pod, after it split explosively apart.

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Photo of a spotted touch-me-not flower.
Spotted Touch-Me-Not (Jewelweed)
Jewelweed’s orange-red, funnel-shaped, spurred flowers are distinctive.

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Photo of a spotted touch-me-not fruit, closeup.
Spotted Touch-Me-Not (Jewelweed) Fruit
Many Missouri children learn about jewelweed by playing with the juicy green “exploding” seedpods.

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Photo of spotted touch-me-not showing leaves and a few flowers.
Spotted Touch-Me-Not (Jewelweed) Leaves
Jewelweed’s leaves look almost exactly like those of the familiar impatiens you can buy at garden centers. They are in the same genus.
Habitat and conservation

Damp, low woods; banks of streams, rivers and springs; swampy places; edges of ponds; ravine bottoms; bases of bluffs; moist, disturbed areas. Our two species of jewelweeds are often found growing together, but apparently they do not hybridize. They both have different pollinators: Spotted touch-me-not is visited by hummingbirds, pale touch-me-not by bumblebees. Also, the flowers that produce the most seeds are ones that never open fully and are thus self-pollinating.

image of Spotted Touch-Me-Not Jewelweed distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Human connections

Many believe that rubbing the juice from the foliage on the skin will prevent and even cure a poison ivy infection as well as take the sting out of stinging nettle and the itch from chigger bites. Native Americans had many medicinal uses for these plants. Today people cultivate them as ornamentals.

Ecosystem connections

See above for jewelweed's interesting pollination biology. The genus name, Impatiens, should be familiar to gardeners, as jewelweeds are in the same genus as the extremely popular landscaping flowers known by that name. The leaves are very similar, and the flowers have the same little "spur."