If you’d like to attract hummingbirds, bees, butterflies and other pollinators to your garden, spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a good choice. This tall, 2- to 5-foot, bushy plant can form dense colonies, but also works well as a border plant, at the back of the garden or intermingled with native plants. It’s one of only a few native North American plants that can compete with nonnative, invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).
Spotted jewelweed is a true annual; it completes its life cycle in one year—from seed to flower, back to seed, and die-off in one growing season. Stems and foliage are watery and smooth. Moisture beads on the leaves, resembling sparkling jewels, which led to the nickname jewelweed.
Hummingbirds are said to follow this plant’s blooming from north to south in late summer through fall. Birds of North America (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, 2004) reports that hummingbirds’ overland migration is “nearly synchronous with peak flowering of Impatiens capensis, suggesting this flower is an important nectar source during this time, and may influence the timing of migration.”
Its nectar-rich flowers also attract butterflies and other insects, which in turn attract birds. The orange, cone-shaped flowers are about an inch long and store moisture and high-sugar content nectar. Its chief pollinators are native bees and honeybees.
Jewelweed also is known as touch-me-not, because of its unique seedpods. When touched, they explode, spreading seeds to great distances. (Gardeners of all ages will enjoy this activity!)
The gel of the leaves and stems contains anti-inflammatory and antifungal chemicals that can treat skin conditions such as insect bites, poison ivy, athlete’s foot and others. Other benefits include shade-tolerance and adaptability to various soil types. Rabbits and deer seem to leave it alone.
Because jewelweed tends to colonize, it works well in naturalistic garden areas, or in spots with tough growing conditions for other plants. It works well along pond edges intermingled with swamp milkweeds (Asclepias incarnata), sedges (Carex spp.), blue flag irises (Iris versicolor), native cattails (Typha latifolia), and many others. Before jewelweed blooms in late summer, it forms an attractive groundcover for garden perennials of all types.
In natural settings, spotted jewelweed can be found in most of eastern North America, and is often abundant along edges of wetlands and woodlands. The plant will grow in all soil types if it receives sufficient moisture. Each flower lasts for a day or so, but the plant blooms for several weeks; often buds, flowers and seeds are on the same plant at the same time.
Spotted jewelweed grows easily from seed scattered where desired, in locations with adequate moisture. Some sources suggest storing the seeds in the refrigerator for two months and then sowing them in spring when all danger of frost is passed. Another effective method is to gather seeds from the wild in late summer and scatter them while still fresh in the garden.
Because of its beauty and wildlife value, jewelweed deserves a spot in the garden. Add the fun of watching pollinators visit, and popping the seeds when they’re ripe, and jewelweed adds entertainment to the garden, too.
Native-plant enthusiast Beth Stetenfeld is a garden blogger and writer, and a master naturalist volunteer and instructor.