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I recently noticed some Impatiens growing amongst some cattails in Turtle Mountain. It is always a treat to see this interesting plant, also known as jewelweed, or touch-me-not.

Two species of touch-me-nots are native to North Dakota. The more common and widely distributed species is the spotted touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis). It can be found roughly east of a line from Bottineau County to Sargent County along stream banks, springs, and other wet habitats, particularly in wooded areas.

Spotted touch-me-not is a much branched herbaceous annual that grows to around 3-4 feet tall. The flowers are about an inch long, sac-like, with a long spur. In combination with the orange-yellow color and perhaps some reddish-brown spots the flowers are interesting and attractive.

The common name jewelweed is reportedly a reference to the flowers shimmering in the sunlight like jewels. The name touch-me-not is even more interesting. It is a reference to the “explosively” dehiscent capsules. As with many dry fruits, the capsules of Impatiens break open or dehisce, to release the seeds. And they do it in explosive fashion! When the fruits are mature, a simple touch of the hand (or to be more effective a pinch) can cause the fruits to explode open, sending seeds flying in all directions. As you can imagine, this can lead to some fun entertainment!

Another intriguing aspect of Impatiens is the production of seeds from flowers that do not require pollination. Botanists call the phenomenon cleistogamy, and the flowers are said to be cleistogamous. These small flowers, which may be produced at the base of some of the leaves, are about a sixteenth of an inch long and inconspicuous.

Impatiens was used medicinally by many Native American tribes. The mucilaginous sap from stems and leaves was used to treat various skin conditions and to treat exposure to poison ivy and stinging nettle. It is still used by herbalists.

So as you travel about, be on the lookout for some tall bushy plants sporting lots of small orange colored flowers in a wet area. It could be spotted touch-me-not. And if some are in fruit, try giving them a pinch!

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of “Natural North Dakota” and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005 he has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for North Dakota’s newest newspaper, the Lake Metigoshe Mirror. His columns also appear under “The Naturalist” in several other weekly newspapers across North Dakota.
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