Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Flowers: Impatiens

Impatiens pallida - Pale Jewelweed

Impatiens is a genus of over 800 flowering plants in the family Balsaminaceae. I have recognized the cultivated variety as long as I can remember as a tender annual that is used widely in summer gardens in our area. This most familiar plant, also known as Busy Lizzie, is a perennial that is native to East Africa. It grows up to a height of 60 cm tall in a warm climate. I planted an entire flat of this type of impatiens last year and every last plant was eaten by rodents capable of climbing into my planters.

Impatiens Walleriana - Busy Lizzie

I took the picture above at the home of one of my patients who obviously does not feed squirrels and chipmunks.

When the seed pods of Impatiens flowers mature, they explode when touched, sending the seeds several metres away. Thus the name "impatiens" (impatient) or "touch-me-not". There are two types of Touch-me-nots native to North America.

Impatiens Capensis - Spotted Jewelweed

Spotted Jewelweed, or Orange Balsam, is abundant in our area, growing in moist areas near streams and ditches. Pale Jewelweed has a similar yellow flower which I have found to be a little larger than its orange cousin. They grow side by side along the river where I walk.

I found a number of tall plants with pink flowers of the same shape growing along the same trail, but almost in the water. They were not in my flower guides and I had difficulty identifying them. They shared the watery stem common to impatiens and the flower was almost identical in shape to the other Jewelweeds.

Impatiens Glandulifera - Himalayan Balsam

I discovered that this is a very invasive, non-native species known as Himalayan Balsam or Policeman's Helmet. The shape is reminiscent of British police headgear. It is an aggressive plant, spreading by seed quickly along waterways. In Britain, it is considered one of ten most noxious weeds and Balsam Bashing events are organized to try and control the plant. They have a very shallow root system and are easy to pull out of the ground. The flowers must be destroyed as they carry many seeds that will germinate the next year.

"Policeman's Helmet"

I know little about plant classification and find it interesting that all these flowers belong to the same family. The stems share similarities, but the flowers of the garden impatiens and the jewelweed are dissimilar except perhaps for the little curly point at the back of the bloom. Why has the Himalayan Balsam spread as a nuisance plant while the seeds from the non-native Busy Lizzie's do not germinate readily in the soil after the winter?


  1. I didn't know Impatiens was a balsam. Cool. Nor did I know that rascally rodents like 'em. For some reason we don't have a problem with that in our back yard.

    They LOVED the scented geraniums!

    I don't think I've seen that invasive plant in our area - we've got loose strife and garlic mustard. This, was interesting, Ruth.

  2. Jewel Weed is my fave for sure!

  3. Good info on impatiens! I'd love to grow them here. Not this summer, however. The only place I can plant them would be on the north side of the house where they would be hidden - with shade. My impatiens in Maryland were a hit. Absolutely beautiful.

  4. Hi Ruth,
    I didn't know either that Jewelweed was related to impatiens. I sure have learned a lot from your blogs this summer! Thank you.

  5. Interesting-I never really paid attention to families of flowers but started to realize that there were a lot of flowers in the daisy family.- -Nice photos!

  6. Cathy- Loosestrife has been almost eliminated in our area. I don't remember the details, but a certain insect was introduced that eats only that plant. It has wiped out large stands of the invasive plant.
    I thinks the chipmunks are the most destructive to my planters.

    Monarch- Jewelweed has such a pretty, delicate flower. I think it is as interesting as an orchid.

    Mary- It seems that all these flowers like moist soil. They could stand your heat, but you would have to water them a lot. Looks like you have another scorcher of a weekend!

    RuthieJ- Thanks...and I have learned a lot too. Looking up these flowers has been interesting.

    Larry- Some of the family members of particular flower groups are quite unusual and diverse. I guess that is true of our families too!

  7. Thanks for the info. I had just gotten the name Himalayan Jewel from a gardening forum and was looking for more info.
    My mother bought a Himalayan Balsam or Jewel as a no name seedling that would attract hummingbirds. It did attract the hummers but it was very thirsty.

  8. Dear Anon,
    thanks for commenting. I am not an expert and got most of my info from Wikipedia. I have a link in the post.


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