Growing wild in most of the United States, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a native, flowering annual plant that also can add a simple pop of color in home gardens. Montana, Wyoming and the Southwest are the U.S. locations where the plant doesn't grow in nature. Jewelweed thrives in shady, moist soil and is often near streams, which is convenient when identifying the plant because submersing its leaves in water makes them appear silver. Jewelweed flowers from June through October, its spotted blooms shades of yellow, orange and brown.
Jewelweed is known by several names. It is commonly referred to as silverleaf, ladies earring, ear jewel and kicking colt. Many people also call it touch-me-not because its ripe seedpods explode when touched, scattering seeds up to 6 feet.
Jewelweed grows to 2 to 5 feet tall and has oval, toothed leaves. The leaves are about 3 1/2 to 5 inches long. The plant's stems are translucent, giving them an unusual appearance that makes identifying the plant easier. Jewelweed's flowers are trumpet-shaped and about 1 inch long.
Pests and Wildlife
Bees, mice and some bird species, including hummingbirds, rely on jewelweed for food. Butterflies eat its nectar. Other animals, including salamanders, frogs, ducks and beavers, use the plant for shelter. It has no known insect pests but is susceptible to mildews.
In the Garden
Jewelweed's bright flowers can provide color all summer in a garden, and the plant is very simple to grow. It is very good at spreading itself, however, and may need to be controlled. The plant propagates by forming green seedpods that ripen then pop open when touched, dispersing seeds. If you want to keep jewelweed plants from taking over your garden, simply pull unwanted seedlings by hand. The seedlings come out of the ground easily. You can also pull jewelweed plants out of your garden in late summer before they produce seeds.
Collect seeds from a jewelweed plant by tying a small cloth bag around one of its seedpods before it ripens. When the pod bursts, the seeds will go into the bag. Also, a ripe seedpod can be tapped against the inside of a container to catch the seeds. Another option is to remove a mature plant with ripe seedpods from the ground and then shake the plant vigorously inside a large container or bucket to collect the seeds its pods disperse. The latter method is more difficult than the others because it requires being very careful not to disturb the seedpods until the plant is out of the ground.
When eaten, parts of jewelweed are toxic to humans, particularly children. The plant is also toxic to animals, including livestock that eat a lot of it. The toxicity level depends largely on a person's health and body chemistry.