Impatiens capensis Meerburgh

Remark The words or terms in red (actually dark orange) in the text are defined in a glossary.

july_16_10.gthmb can't be loaded. Impatiens capensis is a summer annual plant with an attractive bloom, that is native to North America. Its root system consists of a shallow branching taproot. The plant often forms large and dense colonies by reseeding itself. Impatiens capensis was described and illustrated by Nicolas Meerburgh around the 1770. It belongs to the Balsaminaceae family.


In Latin the word impatiens is formed from the privative or negative prefix in to mean the absence, the lack of and from the patiens the present participle of the verb patior that means to endure, to suffer, that participle being used as an adjective to mean impatient, referring to the explosive action of fruits to disperse their seeds.

As far as the epithet is concerned, it means Of the Cape, and is a misnomer, as Nicolaas Meerburgh was under the mistaken impression that it was native to the Cape of Good Hope, in southern Africa. Nicolaas Meerburgh (1734-1814) was a Dutch botanist and curator of the Leiden Botanical Garden from 1774-1814; he was well known and an important figure in Dutch gardening circles in the late eighteenth century; he was also a good illustrator. Leiden is a city, municipality an university town in the province of South Holland in the Netherlands and has around 120 000 inhabitants.

Common names

Some of the vernacular names of Impatiens capensis are Orange Jewelweed, Common Jewelweed, Spotted Jewelweed, Spotted Touch-me-not, Speckled Touch-me-not, Wild Touch-me-not, Lady's-earrings, Orange Touch-me-not, Snapweed and Orange Balsam. The French vernacular names are Impatiente du Cap and Impatiente biflore.


Impatiens capensis has also been known as:


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Impatiens capensis is quite easy to identify with its:

Impatiens pallida is similar, but its flowers are solid yellow and the larger leaves have more regularly toothed margins.




The caterpillars of several moths feed on the foliage, including Euchlaena obtusaria (the Obtuse Euchlaena), Spilosoma latipennis (the Pink-Legged Tiger Moth), Trichodezia albovittata (the White-Striped Black), and Xanthorhoe lacustrata (the Toothed Brown Carpet).


The flowers attract Archilochus colubris (the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird) and long-tongued bees, including Bombus spp. (bumblebees) and Apis mellifera (honeybees). Butterflies of the Papilionidae family (the Swallow Tail butterflies) are less common visitors. These visitors seek the nectar of the flowers or the pollen. Sometimes bumblebees will steal nectar by chewing holes near the spur of the flower. Various smaller insects, e.g. insects from the Syrphidae family (the Syrphid flies) will visit the same holes to steal nectar.


When ripe, the pods explode out when they are lightly touched, ejecting the seeds, hence one of the vernacular names: Touch-me-not.


Impatiens capensis is common in bottomland soils, along creeks, in openings in moist woodlands, in partially or lightly shaded floodplains, along rivers, edges of woodland paths, in swamps, seeps and fens, and roadside ditches. It tolerates disturbance better than most wetland plants.


Impatiens capensis is found in the eastern half of North America as a native species, and in the western provinces of Canada and in some western American states as an introduced species. The map shows the Canadian provinces and Territories as well as the USA states where the plant can be found.

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Bonasa umbellus (the Ruffed Grouse), Phasianus colchicus (the Common Pheasant also named the Ring-Necked Pheasant), Tympanuchus cupido (the Greater Prairie Chicken), as well as Colinus virginianus (the Northern Bobwhite also named the Virginia Quail or the Bobwhite Quail) as well as some other bird species and Peromyscus leucopus (the White-Footed Mouse) eat the seeds. Among mammals, Odocoileus virginianus (the White-Tailed Deer) browse on the foliage.

Impatiens capensis was transported in the 19th and 20th by humans to England, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Finland, and potentially other areas of Northern and Central Europe, where these naturalized populations persist in the absence of any common cultivation by people.

Along with other Impatiens species Impatiens capensis is a traditional remedy for skin rashes, although controlled studies have not shown efficacy for this purpose.

Impatiens capensis was commonly used as remedy by native American tribes, The Cherokees used it as dermatological aid; they rubbed the juice on the skin against Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy) to no effect ? They made an infusion of the roots and used it for babies with hives. They drank an infusion of leaves against measles. Their women took a decoction of stems to ease childbirth. The Chippewas applied a poultice bruised stems to rashes or other skin troubles. The Iroquois used a decoction of plants as a wash for liverspots and took an infusion of roots to increase urination and for stricture. They applied a poultice of smashed stems to sore or raw eyelids and took a cold infusion of plants against fever, for kidney problems and dropsy.

The Malecites used an infusion of leaves against jaundice. The Meskwakis applied a poultice of fresh plant to sores and used the juice for nettle stings. The Mohegans, the Penobscots and the Nanticokes used a compound of buds and rum as ointment for burns or applied to them a poultice of crushed buds. They would also apply a poultice of crushed flower buds to cuts and bruises. The Ojibwa rubbed the juice of of fresh plant on the head against headaches. The Omahas applied a poultice of crushed stems and leaves to the skin for rashes and eczema.

The Potawatomis took an infusion of whole plants for stomach cramps and used it as a liniment for soreness. They used the juice of the plant as a wash on nettle stings or Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy) rash. They used a decoction of plants as a liniment for sprains, bruises, soreness and for chest cold. The Shinnecocks used the plant as dermatological aid; they make a salve with the buds. The Menominees, Potawatomis and Ojibwas used the whole plant to make an orange yellow dye. Finally the Cherokees used the plant as an ingredient of their Green Corn (ritual practices) ceremonies, dances and festivals.


The photos of the gallery were taken either with one of the following: Minolta DiMAGE 7, Canon PowerShot A530, Canon Xt Rebel, usually with the EF-S60mm f/2.8 Macro USM objective, Fujifilm A 610 and EPSON Perfection 1650 (scanner).

The title in the window shows the date when the picture was taken, i.e. jan_30_06... would mean that the photo was taken on the 30th of January, the 06 is for the 6th picture taken that day. The month, day and picture number might be followed by a letter which I use to identify the system used to take the picture.

Click on the thumbnails to get larger view. The original photos are usually in TIFF format, the photos shown are generally in JPEG format, often of reduced dimensions (to fit in a 1600 by 1200 pixels display while leaving a bit of margin) for loading time reduction.


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Fruits, seeds

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