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How to grow Jewelweed in the garden

A cloud of Jewelweed nearly 6 feet high.
A cloud of Jewelweed nearly 6 feet high.
Kim Willis

If you are looking for something a bit unusual for the garden that attracts hummingbirds and bees you may want to try Jewelweed. Jewelweed, ( Impatiens capensis), is an interesting native wildflower of Eastern North America. Jewelweed also has many uses in herbal medicine and may also be a candidate for the medicinal garden. Another common name for the plant is Touch- Me- Not, which comes from the seed pods which explode when touched.

Jewelweed is a tall, rangy plant so it looks best in the back of gardens and in informal settings. It’s a good plant to use in rain gardens, native wildflower gardens and partially shaded areas. It will grow in full sun if the soil is kept moist such as near ponds or in wet areas. It will also grow in deeper shade but it will flower less. It prefers rich water retentive soil and doesn’t do well in sandy soil.

Getting started with Jewelweed

It can be hard to find seeds or plants to get Jewelweed established in your landscape. Some wildflower catalogs may carry the seeds. You can look for ripe seedpods in the fall on wild stands of the plant, and then immediately scatter the tiny seeds in the area you want them to grow. Don’t worry about covering the seed. Rain and snow should wash the seeds into the top of the soil. The plants should begin to grow in late spring as the soil begins to warm up. You could start the seeds inside in pots in early spring, but the seed needs to be stored in a cool place such as a refrigerator for several months before it will germinate. Plant outside after the danger of frost has passed.

If you know someone who has Jewelweed growing on their property you may be able to get permission to dig up small plants in early summer. Remember, however, that Jewelweed is considered a native wildflower and you can’t dig it up on public lands. Keep the plants well watered after transplanting.

The weed part of Jewelweed’s name is apt. Once established in a good spot the plant will spread rapidly and may become invasive. You will never have to worry about finding seeds again if Jewelweed likes the home you provided. The plants are easy to pull so thinning the stand to a reasonable number isn’t hard. Jewelweed doesn’t spread by suckering or the root system, just by seed.

Jewelweed doesn’t seem to suffer from the diseases garden impatiens have, such as Downy Mildew. It doesn’t need fertilizer. It will need to be watered if conditions get dry or the plants look like they are wilting.

What Jewelweed looks like

As a member of the Impatiens family the Jewelweed leaf is very similar to the leaf of the impatiens we plant in our yards. They are large, broadly oval, thin, and have toothed edges. Jewelweed grows much taller than garden impatiens, with stems up to 6 feet in height if conditions are good. The stems are very succulent, can become as large as a pencil or larger, and have prominent swollen joints.

The flowers of Jewelweed begin as small clusters of whitish buds coming from a stem and leaf junction. They are on top of the leaves as they begin but by the time the buds open the leaves will have grown and the pretty yellow and orange flowers will dangle beneath them on slender stalks. It begins blooming in mid-summer and will continue until frost.

Jewelweed flowers are yellow and funnel shaped ending in a narrow, curled tube called a spur. There is a flare of petals at the lower side of the opening that are usually orange. The yellow throat of the flower is speckled with orange and brown. There is another species of Jewelweed that has flowers that are entirely pale yellow. The flowers vary from 1/2 inch to an inch long.

While they are tiny, Jewelweed flowers are incredibly attractive to bees and hummingbirds. Hummingbirds will often spend many minutes in a patch of Jewelweed hovering over each tiny flower for a sip. In mid-day a clump of Jewelweed will often be buzzing with clouds of bees.

The flowers turn into long oval seed capsules that explode at the slightest touch throwing the hard dark seeds far from the plant. The plant is an annual, which readily, some say too readily, reseeds in the garden each year.

Herbal uses

The leaves and stems of Jewelweed contain an astringent and a fungicide. The plant juice was used by Native Americans to heal poison ivy rash and calm the sting of insect bites and stinging nettles. Jewelweed often grows close to poison ivy or nettles. The stems are crushed and the pulpy liquid is used on the rash or bite. In herbal medicine the juice of crushed plants is boiled with soft fat or lard it is used to cure athlete’s foot and applied to hemorrhoids. The plant however, should not be eaten or made into tea.

This pretty plant is truly a “jewel” and belongs in the landscape solely for its attraction to bees and hummingbirds if nothing else. Find a place to tuck some Jewelweed into on your property and enjoy the show.

Here are some additional articles you may want to read.

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