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…
The flowers were remarkable to me for their color as well as their curved spur and pitcher-like shape…
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…
If bees could see they way we humans do (they don’t) here’s what the nectar approach would look like…
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.