Blog Posts, Native Plants

Native Plant Combinations Part 1 – Jewelweed

INTRODUCTION

Let’s start with a quick introduction to Jewelweed. First, it’s worth noting that there are two common species in North America.

1: Impatiens capensis– Orange in color with red spots. The common name is Orange Jewelweed or Spotted Touch-Me-Not.

2: Impatiens pallida– Light yellow in color with orange spots. The common name is Pale Jewelweed

Impatiens capensis (left) – Impatiens pallida (right)

LIFE CYCLE

Jewelweed is an annual. Meaning, it grows rapidly from seed in its first year, blooms, sets seed, and then dies in winter. However, this plant reseeds itself so prolifically that large colonies can often be found in the same spot year after year. It can form such dense stands that it has been shown to outcompete invasive garlic mustard!

Ripe Jewelweed Seed Capsule

Speaking of seeds, I should mention that the seed capsules are fascinating and pretty entertaining. When ripe, they burst open from the lightest touch. Multiple seeds are forcefully propelled in all directions! You may have guessed by now that this is where the “touch me not” common name comes from.

FAUNAL ASSOCIATIONS

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is considered to be one of Jewelweed’s primary pollinators. Long-tongued bees and butterflies frequent it’s mid-summer blossoms as well. The caterpillars of several moths use it as a host plant. White tail deer may heavily browse the foliage and mice or upland game birds eat the seeds.

NOTES

Another noteworthy characteristic about this native plant is that the stems contain a watery liquid that can be used to relieve the itch from bug bites, stinging nettle, or poison ivy. When I originally learned this substance was referred to as a mucilaginous sap, I decided the word mucilaginous was going to be added to my top ten list of disgusting words I don’t ever want to hear again. Yet, somehow, here we are. At any rate, this soothing balm (there, that’s a better word) is a handy thing to have around when hiking in the woods! I’ve broken open a stem on more than one occasion to rub the natural salve onto a fresh mosquito bite. While it isn’t a cure, it can provide temporary relief.


JEWELWEED COMBINATIONS

Now that you know a little bit about Jewelweed, we’ll take a look at some companion plants that grow happily alongside it. The photos of these uncultivated groupings are all from various wild locations around our property. Before adding any new plants to your garden, it is best to research them extensively to ensure they are a good fit for your situation. Many of these are enthusiastic growers that can fill in a landscape in just a few seasons. This can be wonderful if you have a lot of ground to cover, yet perhaps not as desirable if you have a small yard. Instead of asking yourself what plant would look good in a particular spot, it is often best to ask yourself what plant would be happiest in a particular spot!

HABITAT:
A very large pile of dead branches and blackberry brambles is completely covered by native clematis vine, Virgin’s Bower. Jewelweed pokes up through it in a hundred different places. This area is always buzzing with pollinator activity and the whir of Hummingbird wings. If you have a large low-lying spot with unsightly brush piles or brambles, this can be an effective solution for transforming an eye-sore into a beautiful display that provides nectar for bees/butterflies and a refuge for wildlife!

A CLOSER LOOK:
This arrangement tumbles over a mostly sunny embankment that runs along the edge of our creek. Not only does such a habitat provide food (pollen, nectar, seeds), but it also shelters one of our resident chipmunk families and creates a safe landing zone for birds to dry off after bathing in the shallow water of the creek.

HABITAT:
Here, Jewelweed grows in a massive colony as far as the eye can see providing colorful contrast with White Turtlehead. Don’t let the pink tinge fool you. White Turtlehead often has pink or even pale greenish-yellow flower tips. If a pure white specimen is your preference, they can usually be purchased at native plant nurseries. In the spring, over thirty Jack-in-the-Pulpit are the main attraction in this spot! During summer, an abundance of Stinging Nettles makes it necessary to traverse the area with caution. Elderberry shrubs and Northern Spicebush also grow nearby.

A CLOSER LOOK:
Though exposed to nearly full-sun conditions, there is dense plant coverage here keeping the ground shaded and moist at root level. A wide natural spring flows down the hill and provides constant moisture when they need it most on hot summer days. All of these plants seem to bloom especially profusely with a face to the sun and their feet in some water. Spring Salamanders, Red Admiral butterflies and Hummingbirds have been seen here. Baltimore Checkerspot butterflies use Turtlehead as a host plant.

HABITAT:
My personal favorite color combination with Jewelweed is the pop of purple Ironweed! Much to my dismay, the deer made a meal of this colony in very early summer. However, these tough plants did not accept defeat! By late summer they filled in, branched out, and became lush low-growing specimens. One of the joys of native plants is that their primary purpose is to be food for local wildlife. For non-fragile species like Ironweed (it get’s it’s name with good reason), being browsed by deer or hungry caterpillars is not usually a death sentence! They often rebound with great vigor. If not this year, then the next one.

A CLOSER LOOK:
This duo is growing in unison along the banks of our large pond. It is full sun and the soil stays saturated throughout the growing season. Dragonflies, Orb Weavers, Damselflies, and numerous butterfly species utilize them for food, shelter, and safe landing zones. Bullfrogs frequently hide under the leafy growth and use these plants for shade from the hot sun.

HABITAT:
If you like the look of Jewelweed mixed with white flowers, Boneset is a great alternative to Virgin’s Bower. It get’s big and full, yet doesn’t climb or wrap around everything like a vine does. Rather, it forms neat clumps that are a non-stop attraction to pollinators. As the foliage of Boneset is bitter tasting, it is left alone by deer. White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima) is also another showy white flowering companion option. It can be an enthusiastic spreader in the right conditions.

A CLOSER LOOK:
These plants are growing in a gravel-filled ditch in part sun. There is normally not an over-abundance of moisture here and it can get quite dry. However, the ground tends to stay saturated for a long time after it rains. There is no protection from prevailing winds that can be very strong at times. The sturdy stems of the Boneset provide much-needed support for the more fragile Jewelweed. During the heat of the day or extremely dry spells, the Jewelweed gets a little droopy. In the cool of the morning/evening it rebounds. The close proximity to our Common Milkweed patch means that Monarchs are frequently seen nectaring from these flowers.

HABITAT:
Mixing cool and warm colors in your garden can create an eye-catching display. Here is another purple option that is more subtle and low-growing than Ironweed. Pale lavender blossoms of late-flowering Asters provide a perfect contrast to the jewel tones of both I. capensis and I. pallida. There are many aster species to choose from! As you can see in the example above, orange and yellow Jewelweed also look fantastic when mixed together!

A CLOSER LOOK:
This grouping is growing at the base of a steep, heavy clay bank along our driveway. It only receives morning sun and is at the edge of a high canopy of maple and cherry trees. The shade is not dense (like you would find under evergreens), but direct sunlight is minimal. Again, natural springs abound and this area can be fairly wet at times.


MORE COMPANIONS

If maximum biodiversity and food for pollinators is your main goal, it is best to provide three seasons of flowering plants with overlapping bloom times. For instance, spring ephemerals put on a show before the leaves open on the trees. Once the heat of summer begins, many have withered away and won’t resurface until the following year. Great Waterleaf, Virginia Bluebells, and Spring Beauty to name a few. For this reason, successional plantings in the same area are a good idea. For example Ostrich Ferns, Bee Balm, Golden Groundsel, and Asters can rapidly fill in empty spaces and not only provide flowers, but also critical ground-cover for the rest of the growing season.

There are many flowering plants that play well with Jewelweed! I’ve compiled a list based on my own personal observations combined with further research:

Early Spring – Late Spring Flowering

Summer Flowering:

Late Summer – Fall Flowering

A FINAL NOTE

In nature, you will find that plants grow in layers. Taller plants are supported by lower-growing species. Those low-growing plants are usually surrounded by even lower ground-hugging vegetation! When gardening with natives, the more layers you create, the more biodiversity can be achieved. Allowing plants to fill in closely in multiple layers also means you may need to do less staking of top-heavy plants after hard rain or strong winds. This helps with erosion control and means less mulch will be needed if you can avoid large empty gaps around plants.

All things considered, careful research of plant combinations at your particular site is important. Some plants are sensitive to overcrowding if conditions are not optimum and may be prone to powdery mildew due to lack of airflow. Others don’t mind being shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbor. The right plants in the right places make all the difference in their ability to thrive!

In our modern landscaping we tend to segregate or isolate individual plants and then surround them with a sea of mulch. As we’ve just seen, Mother Nature creates her gardens in a far different manor! Regardless of your style, whether formal or informal, when gardening with natives we can all learn valuable lessons from closely observing how these plants grow in their natural habitats.

Find your favorite plants on stickers, shirts, mugs, and more in our ArcadiaNatives Zazzle store!

2 thoughts on “Native Plant Combinations Part 1 – Jewelweed”

  1. Pingback: Into The Woods

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