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Wildflowers of the Adirondacks:
Spotted Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens capensis)

Spotted Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens capensis) is a summer-blooming Adirondack wildflower bearing one-inch orange flowers with red or dark orange spots. It is a member of the Balsaminaceae family.

  • The genus name (Impatiens) is Latin for "impatience." This is a reference to the seed, which explodes on touch when ripe.
  • The species name (capensis) is a reference to the Cape of Good Hope. It was initially thought that the plant originated in that area.
  • The author name (Meerb.) refers to Nicolaas Meerburgh, a Dutch botanist of the 18th and early 19th century who directed the botanical garden in Leiden.
  • Older sources may refer to the Spotted Touch-me-not as Impatiens biflora.

The common name (Spotted Touch-me-not) is a reference to the seed pods popping open at a touch, a characteristic which also explains two other common names – Snapweed and Spotted Snap Weed.

The plant is also known as Jewelweed and Spotted Jewelweed. There are several competing explanations for these names.

  • Some sources attribute it to the fact that the orange flowers tend to glisten in the sunlight.
  • Others trace the name to the fact that the blossoms hang like pendants from the branches.
  • Still others contend that the name comes from the fact that "jewels" of water collect on the edges of the leaves.

Other common names for Impatiens capensis include Silver Leaf and Silver-cap Lady’s Eardrops, apparently in reference to the silvery sheen on the leaves.

Spotted Touch-me-not is one of three impatiens species in the Adirondack Park. The others are Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) and Pale Touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida).

Identification of Spotted Touch-Me-Not

In contrast to most of our native wildflowers, Spotted Touch-me-not is an annual, reproducing from seed each spring. Seedlings sprout in early spring, reaching maximum size in late summer.

Spotted Touch-me-not is a tall, erect plant, growing two to five feet tall. Its pale green stems are hairless and succulent, exuding juice when broken.

The oval leaves are 1 to 3 inches long and up to 1½ inches wide. They are arranged alternately, meaning that they emerge from the stem one leaf per node. Like the stems, they are hairless and somewhat succulent. The leaf has a distinct leaf stalk. The leaf edges have low, widely-spaced teeth.

The leaves are covered with a coating that repels water. Water drops usually roll off the leaves, but in horizontal areas, the water beads up, appearing like jewels in the reflected light. When submerged in water, the leaves take on a silvery sheen. The function of this waterproofing is unknown.

Spotted Touch-me-not has two different types of flowers: small, inconspicuous flowers that don’t open and the larger, showy flowers from which the plant draws many of its common names. These latter flowers are about an inch long.

  • Spotted Touch-me-not flowers have dark reddish-brown spots on a yellowish-orange base.
  • The flowers dangle on stalks on the upper part of the stems.
  • The flower is shaped like a cornucopia, with a prominent spur at the base about ¼ inch long. The spur is usually curled and bends forward until parallel with the flower.

The color and shape of the flower is one of the keys to distinguishing Spotted Touch-me-not from Pale Touch-me-not (I. pallida), which occurs in similar habitats in the Adirondack region.

  • Pale Touch-me-not, also known as Yellow Jewelweed, has large lemon-yellow flowers with fewer and smaller reddish spots.
  • Pale Touch-me-not’s spur, in contrast to that of Spotted Touch-me-not, is usually bent at a right angle to the flower.

In the Adirondack Park, Spotted Touch-me-not is usually in flower from July through early September. Each flower only lasts for a day or so, but the flowering season is quite lengthy; and you can often find flower buds, flowers, and fruits at the same time.

The fruit of Spotted Touch-me-not consists of pale green pods. The narrow capsule is about an inch long and divided into five sections. These spring apart when touched, throwing seeds in all directions. The seeds are brown and usually number 3 to 5 per pod. The seeds are dormant through the winter, germinating in April and May.

Uses of Spotted Touch-Me-Not

There is contradictory reporting on the plant’s edibility. Some reports indicate that the succulent stems can be cut up and cooked like green beans, while others warn that the plant (especially if eaten raw) should not be ingested in large quantities. Some sources suggest that the seeds taste like walnuts.

Spotted Touch-Me-Not’s main use is medicinal.

  • Spotted Touch-me-not was used as a medicinal herb by several native American groups. The Cherokee, for instance, used an infusion of the leaf for measles. The Chippewa applied a poultice of bruised stems to rashes and other skin troubles. The Iroquois used a cold infusion of plants for fevers.
  • Most sources on modern herbal remedies indicate that Spotted Touch-me-not is an effective remedy for the the pain and itching of poison ivy or poison sumac. The stem and foliage is said to contain compounds that neutralize uroshiol, which causes contact dermatitis.

Wildlife Value of Spotted Touch-Me-Not

Spotted Touch-me-not is an important nectar source for the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which contributes to its pollination. The Spotted Touch-me-not is considered to be a hummingbird flower. Hummingbirds can use their long slender beaks to penetrate the base of the plant’s long tubular flowers. Nectar from touch-me-nots is said to comprise 5 to 10% of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s diet.

Bees and butterflies are also attracted by the flowers. Grasshoppers, beetles, and katydids reportedly feed on the Spotted Touch-me-not’s buds and flowers. Other insects feed on the foliage, including leaf beetles, (which may defoliate an entire plant) and the caterpillars of several moths.

Several bird species, including Ruffed Grouse and Ring-necked Pheasant, eat the seeds, although they are not a major food source, providing only ½ to 2% of their diet. A few mammal species, such as the White-footed Mouse and Short-tailed Shrews, also consume the seeds. The seeds of Spotted Touch-me-not is reported to comprise ½ to 2% of the White-tailed Mouse’s diet. One report suggests that White-tailed Deer browse on the foliage, although it does not appear to constitute a major part of its diet.

Distribution of Spotted Touch-Me-Not

Spotted Touch-me-not is widely distributed across the North American continent. It occurs throughout the eastern two-thirds of the US, as well as Canada. It can be found from Newfoundland to Alaska, south to Florida and Texas, and west to Colorado, with disjunct populations in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

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In New York State, Spotted Touch-me-not is found in most counties, especially in the eastern part of the state. It has been found in all of the counties within the Adirondack Park Blue Line, except Hamilton and Herkimer counties.

Habitat of Spotted Touch-Me-Not

Spotted Touch-Me-Not is shade-tolerant, but can grow in partial sun. It prefers poorly drained sites with a high water table, but also has been found in non-wetlands. It flourishes in swamps, marshes, stream banks, thickets, and ditches throughout New York State.

In the Adirondacks, Spotted Touch-me-not is very common and found in several ecological communities:

Look for Spotted Touch-me-not growing in swampy areas in mixed woods forests, growing near Northern White Cedar, Red Maple, Eastern Hemlock, Yellow Birch, and Balsam Fir. Ground-layer herbs growing nearby include Goldthread, Partridgeberry, Bunchberry, Canada Mayflower, and Clintonia. Ferns that can be found in this ecological community include Sensitive Fern, Cinnamon Fern, and Royal Fern. Characteristic birds include Winter Wrens, White-throated Sparrows, and Golden-crowned Kinglets.

Spotted Touch-me-not is found on many of the trails covered here, including swampy areas along the Peninsula Nature Trails, Henry’s Woods Loop Trail, Hulls Falls Road, Jackrabbit Trail, and Bloomingdale Bog Trail. At the Paul Smith’s College VIC, Spotted Touch-me-not can be found on the Jenkins Mountain Trail, Black Pond Trail, Fox Run Trail, Heron Marsh Trail, and Barnum Brook Trail.

References

Michael Kudish. Adirondack Upland Flora: An Ecological Perspective (The Chauncy Press, 1992), p. 176.

Michael Kudish. Paul Smiths Flora II: Additional Vascular Plants; Bryophytes (Mosses and Liverworts); Soils and Vegetation; Local Forest History (Paul Smith’s College, 1981), pp. 44-47.

New York Flora Association. New York Flora Atlas. Spotted Jewelweed. Impatiens capensis Meerb. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Impatiens capensis Meerb. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

United States Department of Agriculture. The Plants Database. Jewelweed. Impatiens capensis Meerb. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

United States Department of Agriculture. Forest Service. Plant of the Week. Jewelweed. Impatiens capensis. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

NatureServe Explorer. Online Encyclopedia of Life. Orange Jewelweed. Impatiens capensis – Meerb. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

New England Wildflower Society. Go Botany. Jewelweed. Impatiens capensis Meerb. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

New York State. Department of Environmental Conservation. New York Natural Heritage Program. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition (March 2014), pp. 48-49, 66, 69-70. Retrieved 17 October 2015.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. Online Conservation Guide for Floodplain Forest. Retrieved 11 August 2021.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. Online Conservation Guide for Shallow Emergent Marsh. Retrieved 11 August 2021.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. Online Conservation Guide for Silver Maple-Ash Swamp. Retrieved 11 August 2021.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. Online Conservation Guide for Northern White Cedar Swamp. Retrieved 11 August 2021.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. Online Conservation Guide for Sedge Meadow. Retrieved 11 August 2021.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2021. Online Conservation Guide for Hemlock-Hardwood Swamp. Retrieved 11 August 2021..

USA National Phenology Network. Nature’s Notebook. Impatiens capensis. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

Connecticut Botanical Society. Jewelweed. Impatiens capensis Meerb.
Retrieved 22 November 2017.

University of Wisconsin. Flora of Wisconsin. Impatiens capensis Meerb. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

Illinois Wildflowers. Orange Jewelweed. Impatiens capensis. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. The Friends of the Wild Flower Garden. Spotted Touch-me-not. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Impatiens capensis Meerb. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

Online Encyclopedia of Life. Wild Touch-me-not. Impatiens capensis. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

iNaturalist. Adirondack Park Observations. Common Jewelweed. Impatiens capensis. Retrieved 11 August 2021.

Anne McGrath. Wildflowers of the Adirondacks (EarthWords, 2000), p. 87, Plate 26.

Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny. A Field Guide to Wildflowers. Northeastern and North-central North America (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968), pp. 104, 208-209.

Doug Ladd. North Woods Wildflowers (Falcon Publishing, 2001), p. 118.

Lawrence Newcomb. Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide (Little Brown and Company, 1977), pp. 54-55.

Meiyin Wu & Dennis Kalma. Wetland Plants of the Adirondacks: Herbaceous Plants and Aquatic Plants (Trafford Publishing, 2011), p. 70.

Donald D. Cox. A Naturalist’s Guide to Wetland Plants. An Ecology for Eastern North America (Syracuse University Press, 2002), pp. 54-55, 114, 130.

David M. Brandenburg. Field Guide to Wildflowers of North America (Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2010), p. 153.

John Kricher. A Field Guide to Eastern Forests. North America (Houghton Mifflin, 1998), pp. 328-329.

Timothy Coffey. The History and Folklore of North American Wildflowers (FactsOnFile, 1993), pp. 150-151.

Ruth Schottman. Trailside Notes. A Naturalist’s Companion to Adirondack Plants (Adirondack Mountain Club, 1998), pp. 102-106.

Wilbur H. Duncan and Marion B. Duncan. Wildflowers of the Eastern United States (The University of Georgia Press, 1999), p. 48, Plate 177.

National Audubon Society. Field Guide to North American Wildflowers. Eastern Region (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), pp. 424-425, Plate 365.

William K. Chapman et al., Wildflowers of New York in Color (Syracuse University Press, 1998), pp. 100-101.

Alexander C. Martin, Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife & Plants. A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits (Dover Publications, 1951), pp. 411-412.

John Eastman. The Book of Swamp and Bog: Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of Eastern Freshwater Wetlands (Stackpole Books, 1995), pp. 91-95.

Plants for a Future. Impatiens capensis – Meerb. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

Steven Foster and James A. Duke. Medicinal Plants and Herbs of Eastern and Central North America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014), pp. 154-155.

Bradford Angier. Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants. Revised and Updated. Second Edition. (Stackpole Books, 2008), pp. 92-93.

Katie Letcher Lyle. The Complete Guide to Edible Wild Plants, Mushrooms, Fruits, and Nuts. Finding, Identifying, and Cooking (Falcon Guides, 2017), pp. 45-47.

University of Michigan. Native American Ethnobotany. A Database of Foods, Drugs, Dyes and Fibers of Native American Peoples, Derived from Plants. Jewelweed. Impatiens capensis Meerb. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Birds of North America. Subscription web site. Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

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Iowa State University. BugGuide. Panorpa claripennis. Retrieved 22 November 2017.

Allen J. Coombes. Dictionary of Plant Names (Timber Press, 1994), pp. 94-95.

Charles H. Peck. Plants of North Elba (Bulletin of the New York State Museum, Volume 6, Number 28, June 1899). p. 83. Retrieved 22 February 2017.

Knowlton Foote, “Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis Meerburgh),’ in New York Flora Association Newsletter, Volume 18, No. 2 (Summer 2007), pp. 10-16. Retrieved 26 November 2017.

C. A. Weatherby, “Color Forms of Impatiens Biflora,” Rhodora, Volume 19, No. 223 (July 1917), pp. 115-118. Retrieved 26 November 2017.

B. A. Weatherby, “Further Notes on Impatiens Biflora,” Rhodora, Vol. 21, No. 245 (May 1919), pp. 98-100. Retrieved 26 November 2017.

Weed infestations popping up

While moisture is needed to alleviate drought conditions, the recent snow storm came at the right time to help the already sprouting weeds.

Two early weed infestations that are most noticeable across the valley are Flixweed/Tansy Mustard and Hoary cress.

Flixweed and Tansy mustard are very similar weeds. These native annual plants are typically seen in the early spring. Appearing almost fern-like as young plants, these weeds have finely divided leaves and a single stalk. The stalk is long with yellow flower clusters at the top. As the weed matures, the stalk elogates and seed pods, with rows of orange seeds, are formed. These weeds tend to dry out in May/June and unless removed, become tall, wispy, dry stalks after dispersing their seeds.

Flixweed/Tansy mustard may produce hundreds of seeds per plant. Therefore, removing the plant before it goes to seed is highly recommended. Mechanical removal of this weed by pulling or mowing when they are young plants is an easy remedy for yard weed control. Cutting or pulling prior to seed production helps minimize next season’s regrowth. As a single stalked weed, they are relatively easy to pull. Because they are soft as young plants, mowing is a viable removal option before it goes to seed. Broadleaf weed killer can be used to treat Flixweed/Tansy mustard. However, applications need to be done when the plants are very young or in their rosette stage. Typically, early spring is not the best time for post-emergent herbicide applications as the cooler temperatures are not peak conditions for herbicide use and effectiveness. Certain pre-emergent herbicides can be used to treat this weed and fall applications of broadleaf weed killer will provide control of rosettes as we go into late Fall and early winter.

Flixweed and tansy mustard are somewhat toxic to livestock due to sulfur compounds and occasionally high nitrate levels. However, large quantities of this plant must be consumed to have this adverse effect.

Hoary cress is a second weed that is actively growing during this time. As a weed, it thrives in disturbed and alkaline soil. If you had soil brought into your yard or if you have an alkaline soil base to your yard or along your roadside, do not be surprised if you see Hoary cress plants. Hoary cress is also a member of the Mustard family. Unlike Flixweed/Tansy mustard, Hoary cress is listed on the Nevada State (Category C) Noxious list (NRS 55.010). Though Hoary cress is generally established and widespread, being listed as a noxious weed means that it is the property owner or occupant’s responsibility to control, as it is a detriment to crop yields and property values. Hoary cress is commonly referred to as “Short Whitetop”, whereas Perennial pepperweed is referred to as “Tall Whitetop.”

Hoary cress tends to grow as a monoculture infestation as it outcompetes other plant species. This plant can successfully invade disturbed lands as it reproduces by seeds and a spreading root system. Hoary cress has a vertical tap root with the potential for may lateral roots that send up shoots. These lateral roots eventually turn downward and become vertical roots, as well. Depending on the depth of the water table, it is not uncommon for established infestations to reach into the water table. Each flowering stem of the plant can produce hundreds of seeds.

Hoary cress can be treated with various herbicides, but the selection of herbicide treatment is dependent on the stage of the plant when treated. Applications of a broadleaf weed killer (both spring and fall) prior to the bud stage are effective. Other herbicides: chlorsufuron, metsufuron and imazapic can be used in later growth stages of this weed. Cultivation of this weed can actually spread this plan and is not recommended. Mowing of this plant before it goes to seed may reduce future plant density but can be somewhat labor intensive depending on the acreage. Significantly more diligence is required in the effort to control Hoary cress, and it may require multiple seasons to treat infestations effectively than the previously mentioned weeds. Actively identifying and controlling smaller infestations is highly recommended.

If you are interested in treating weeds on your property, contact the Noxious Weed District at 775-423-2828. Staff will assess the weeds on your property and offer options as to what works best for your situation. The District focuses specifically on noxious weeds along roadsides and easements but can assist local property owners with identifying weeds, callibrating spray equipment and giving advice on herbicide and surfactant mix ratios per gallon of water used as a carrier used for best results for weed control.

Orange Hawkweed – June 2019 Weed of the Month

There are few flowers so intensely flame-colored as orange hawkweed. This plant truly deserves one of its common names, Devil’s Paintbrush, both for its fiery colors and for its devilish behavior as a noxious weed in North America.

When orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) is in flower, it is easy to identify by its clusters of orange-red flowers that look like little orange dandelions. Before the flowers open, look for the tight clusters of black, hairy buds of orange hawkweed on hairy stems. The leaves are also hairy and are usually just around the base of the stem. The leaf edges don’t have teeth or lobed and the leaf shape is like a spatula.

Orange hawkweed flowers form in tight, flat-topped clusters on the top of the stem. Photo by Minwook Park. Orange hawkweed leaves are simple, strap-shaped and not lobed or toothed on the edges. New leaves are very hairy and older leaves have some hairs on them. Photo by Frances Lucero. Orange hawkweed flowers are on hairy, leafless stems, with most of the leaves at the base of the plant. Photo by Frances Lucero.

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The flowers start to open in late May to mid June and continue to bloom through the summer. If plants are mowed they can re-flower later in the summer. When plants begin to flower, also look for new stolons covered with fuzzy white hairs. Each plant produces 4 to 8 leafy stolons that can extend up to 1 foot and form the next generation of plants.

Orange hawkweed forms long, leafy stolons that produce the next generation of plants. Photo by Sasha Shaw.

In late summer look for dandelion-like seedheads. Unlike dandelions, the relatively heavy seeds don’t fly far in the wind, but they do get caught on animals, boots and tires and get moved much longer distances that way.

When orange hawkweed goes to seed, it looks a little like a dandelion, but less fluffy. Photo courtesy of Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board.

In the Pacific Northwest, orange hawkweed often grows most vigorously in the areas where it has the most impact, in our mountain meadows and rangeland. It crowds out slower-growing native wildflowers and more palatable forage species. Unlike many native wildflowers, orange hawkweed spreads by creeping stolons and can form a dense mat that excludes other plants. It is tolerant of the low nutrient soils and short growing season of our mountain areas and it lacks natural predators that would help keep it in check in its native range.

Orange hawkweed has invaded into the mountain areas of the Cascades such as here on the Skykomish River. Photo by Sasha Shaw.

Controlling orange hawkweed is much harder than it would seem. Physical removal rarely succeeds in the shallow, hard soils we often find it in. The fragments of roots and stolons quickly regrow. Even if you do remove all the roots, the seed bank helps re-populate areas before other plants can re-establish. Smothering hawkweed with heavy layers of mulch should work, but it has to be carefully maintained to avoid plants growing out of the mulched area. And mulch isn’t very practical on mountain slopes! Even chemical control is difficult. The plants are well-defended with their hairy leaves and stems. Did I mention how devilish this plant is!

Orange hawkweed leaves grow close to the ground, preventing other plants from encroaching. Photo by Sasha Shaw

Orange hawkweed has spread relatively quickly over the northern states and provinces of North America since it was first introduced in the late 1800’s from Europe. Where it is native in northern and central Europe, it is most often found in the mountains. It was introduced multiple times to North America as an ornamental garden flower.

First reported in Washington in Spokane in 1945, it is now established and spreading in most of the counties of the state with the exception of central Washington, including King County.

One of the most heavily infested areas of King County is the town of Skykomish and other communities off of Highway 2. One homeowner near Skykomish told me that her yard became infested after she spread seeds from one of those “meadow mix” packages. The same appears to have happened in the Alpental Community near Snoqualmie Pass where it is also very common. And, of course, it only takes one infested yard to spread a plant throughout a neighborhood and into the surrounding forests and meadows.

Orange hawkweed almost blends in with the wildflowers on Snoqualmie Pass, but left alone it will crowd out the native wildflowers and grasses. Photo by Katie Messick. On the ski slopes of Snoqualmie Pass, orange and yellow hawkweed used to grow so densely that it looked like someone had painted the grass orange and yellow. Photo by Dennis Chambreau.

The Washington state noxious weed law requires landowners to control orange hawkweed as a regulated Class B noxious weed in King County. However, because of the challenge of control and the sensitivity of the habitats where it grows, the noxious weed program began offering in-house control of orange hawkweed in the Skykomish area in 2005 and in Alpental and other Snoqualmie Pass and North Bend areas in 2007. In addition, a cooperative and coordinated effort to control orange hawkweed on the ski slopes of Snoqualmie Pass began in earnest in 2010.

Currently there are 510 orange hawkweed sites in King County that total about 7 acres combined. This is a big reduction from the peak year of 2008, when there were fewer sites, only 368, but covering a total of 60 acres. Much of that area was near Snoqualmie Pass on the ski hills before control got underway there. All orange hawkweed sites in King County are controlled annually, but the plant is stubborn and the populations persist for many years in spite of control efforts, especially in areas that are regularly disturbed or mowed.

Orange hawkweed can form solid mats that exclude other plants. Photo by Sasha Shaw.

There are also several other species of hawkweed that are a problem in King County. These all have yellow flowers and are tricky to identify and distinguish from other weedy members of the sunflower family. Look for hairs on the stems, leaves and flower buds to tell them apart from dandelions.

Yellow hawkweed plants look a lot like orange hawkweed with hairy buds, stems and leaves but the flowers are bright yellow like a dandelion. Photo by Tom Erler.

For help in identifying orange and yellow hawkweeds, you can email us photos. To see noxious weed identification photos and information, visit our website.

Because of the potential damage that orange hawkweed can do especially in mountain meadow habitats, please contact the King County Noxious Weed Program if you spot any orange hawkweed or other species of invasive hawkweed in the county. You can easily report noxious weed locations to us with the mobile app King County Connect.