Jewelweed

mass of jewelweed

I call it a placeholder. I shouldn’t but I do. This is meant to be a complimentary designation of jewelweed, which is actually more jewel than weed. Impatiens capensis is the real name of this native annual that springs from the moist earth when the soil gets sufficiently warm, and takes its sweet time manufacturing seeds. It likes it wet. There have been droughty summers, though not recently, when the jewelweed has nearly withered away. And yet the following year the roadsides have been as fully populated as ever, the throngs standing solidly upright on their hollow stems, mere millimeters apart. One week their toothed leaves will form a nice neat homogeneous cover, the next, they are two feet tall.

jewelweed seeds

I can almost hear these pods saying, “Squeeze me!”

There are two secrets to the Jewel’s success, one being the cleistogamous flowers that have none of the spotted charm of the orange danglers that attract butterflies and long-tongued bees starting in June. While it is true that the plain green blooms never get to experience the pleasures of an insect’s proboscis, they do, however, have a hidden advantage: self-pollination. If one method of procreation fails, jewel happily tries the other. And then, there is the highly entertaining (to me, at least) spring mechanism, taut and ready inside each seed capsule. Touch the capsule and it explodes, shooting its fertile seeds 3 feet or more! Now that’s a competitive advantage.

Jewelweed seed sprung

Inside each seed is a spring mechanism!

To get back to the question of why I categorize jewel as a placeholder, I let the plants be in the early part of the season. While garlic mustard is getting ready to spit its havoc the world over and thistle is rising up among the daylilies, Jewel shades its ground, preventing some bad actor (ok we’ll name names: Japanese stiltgrass) from getting the light it needs to germinate and rule the earth. Then, when I’m good and ready to plant something else, something better, I yank the jewelweed out. So easily the stalks pull from the ground! So quickly they disappear without a trace, being 99.99% water (yes, I made that number up). A whole population is gone in minutes! So I can plant Zinnias! Or Dahlias! Or some other ‘ias!

It is true. As gently on the earth as I profess to tread, I rip out this benign and shyly beautiful plant by the handful so that I can plant some South American import in its place. The egotistical designer urges me to DO IT even as my inner naturalist shrieks NO!

We are also placeholders, taking up space on the earth, a little or a lot, until the water leaks from our shells. And then someone better, or at least more decorative, assuming our lifespan is about average for our species, takes our place.

jewelweed flower… which is why it is so important that we try our best to be jewels, quietly useful, and, on close inspection, beautiful.

2 thoughts on “Jewelweed

  1. I’m surprised you didn’t mention what a great remedy jewelweed provides for poison ivy rash. Not only have I noticed that they often grow near each other, but I make sure I always have some in my garden so that I can harvest the plants, bpoil them in water for a while, and freeze the liquid into ice cubes, so that I can keep them on hand for whenever I break out in the rash. They cure the itch immediately and seem to speed up the healing.

    • Good point, Ilene. I have grown immune to poison ivy over the years (I know that’s not supposed to happen but nonetheless …) and have never actually tried this remedy.

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