Jewels in Boulder’s Banks

I’ve been taking Mandy the Dog to the Silver Lake Ditch at the Sunshine Canyon trailhead. She enjoys the snow melted water diverted from the Boulder Creek on her tired old legs…

Mandy Chills Out In Silver Lake Ditch

Mandy Chills Out In Silver Lake Ditch

Today’s tale started at the ditch bank while I was watching this wet retriever. I noticed a shrubby plant with delicate little red and yellow spotted flowers…

Jewelweed Plant on the Bank of the Silverlake Ditch

Remarkable Plant on the Bank of the Silver Lake Ditch

The flowers were remarkable to me for their color as well as their curved spur and pitcher-like shape…

A Pitcher-Like flower with a Curved Spur

A Pitcher-Like Flower with a Curved Spur

When I returned home I searched all of my favorite flower sites but I couldn’t find a match. Before declaring a new species I sought the help of a naturalist friend who identified this uncommon little plant as Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). It is also known as spotted touch-me-not because the ripe seeds explode out of their pods when they are lightly touched.

Jewelweed was used for medicinal purposes by a number of native North American Indian tribes. It’s main value was as an external application for wounds and a range of skin complaints including poison ivy which ironically often grows nearby.

The jewelweed flower’s curved spur contains the nectar it uses to attract pollinators. It has been recently discovered that the shape of this spur is critical to pollination efficiency. The curvature of the spur influences the type of pollinator, the amount of time it spends as well as it’s position within the flower during pollination. The jewelweed flower and it’s pollinators are literally (I never use this term lightly) made for each other. This is an example of coevolution, a concept initially proposed by Charles Darwin. The bees and hummingbirds here in Boulder Colorado are attracted to jewelweed and the jewelweed has a spur to accommodate both hummingbirds and bees. Hummingbirds are bigger and carry a larger pollen payload so they are favored. I looked for a big hummingbird in the act but settled for this little bee…

Bee Find The Target

Bee Finds The Target

Aligns with Runway

Aligns with Runway

On Final Approach

On Final Approach

Pollination Underway

Pollination Underway

If bees could see they way we humans do (they don’t) here’s what the nectar approach would look like…

The Nectar Approach

The Nectar Approach

I also discovered this jewelweed poem by Betty Lies. Click on the title at the bottom to learn more…

We call it touch-me-not, this wildness

tense as a spring: Hands off,

it seems to say, but I know

something wound up

in the heart’s green coils

is crying Touch me. Touch me.

Touch me now. All fall

I have been drawn and drawn again

to one tall stand of jewelweed,

to touch the pendant seedpods,

feel them burst with life.

I understand it’s not just botany

that gives me such delight

running my fingers over their plumpness,

warming them till they explode

and scatter seed.

I have seen hummingbirds

bury their beaks in jeweled cups,

the bees delving so deep

you only know they’re inside

by the flower’s orange tremblings.

This autumn, when my body

keeps its secrets from me,

hiding something deep within,

it pleases me to feel

the life stored in those pods,

waiting for release, first now,

and then again to rise,

to rise after a slow cold winter.

Betty Lies, Jewelweed©

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5 Responses to “Jewels in Boulder’s Banks”

  1. Chris Hansen Says:

    It would be fun to be a bee for a day!

  2. richwolf Says:

    Watch out for spider webs.

  3. CorkBoulder Says:

    Great photos Rich, thanks for the research and writeup!

  4. cfootedelmann Says:

    Rich, thank you so very much for sending this to us. Betty is my friend and fellow Cool Woman Poet, of Princeton. She is a phenomenal writer, as well as incomparable mentor, not ONLY where she taught — at Stuart Country Day School here, as head of English Department, for more or less a quarter of a century.

    The blog, however, is mine, NJWILD, and I, also, had Betty’s gracious permission to use Jewelweed.

    You are lucky, in your region, that there is enough water for this plant, who requires ‘wet feet’. Ours are parched, and it is uncomfortable to be among them and watch them suffer.

    Wonderful photos — love the bee’s eye view concept.

    Jewel weed (liquid from the thickest lowest part of the stem) also stops the stinging of nettles, as I discovered when I touched that which one should not, on a hike on Bull’s Island in the Delaware River. Within 20 minutes, the stinging stopped, and it had been fierce.

    You usually find jewelweed growing near poison ivy, one of nature’s kind tricks.

    Thank you, again, Carolyn
    NJ WILD Nature blog
    NJWILDBEAUTY Nature blog

  5. richwolf Says:

    Carolyn, so noted and thank you for your NJWILDBEAUTY Nature Blog and your jewelweed information. I am one of the rare people who are immune to poison ivy which makes my summer hikes much less hazardous!

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