by Jane Scully
JEWELWEED; JUMPING BETTY; SPOTTED TOUCH-ME-NOT
Every area seems to have its own name for this lovely fall plant of the shaded wetlands and woods. Its succulent, translucent stems bear nodding, usually golden-orange flowers splotched with reddish brown that look like miniature cornucopias. The flowers dangle pendant-like from a long stalk like lady's ear drops, as they are called in Ohio.
Jewelweed plants are tall, from 2' to 5', and leafy. The flowers are 1" long, with a sharply spurred nectar-bearing sac in back, about ¼" long. They often occur in dense stands beginning in July and are brought down by the first frost.
The fruit gives rise to some of jewelweed's or touch-me-not's common names. It is a swollen five-chambered capsule that opens explosively at maturity and spreads the seeds widely. This may be the origin of my favorite name for this plant, Jack-Jump-Up-and-Kiss-Me, of Newfoundland origin!
Jewelweed is especially adapted for pollination by hummingbirds, but bees and butterflies are also very important to the process. A seventeenth-century British visitor to New England referred to the plant as the Humming-Bird Tree. A British botanist, also smitten by the plant's beauty, felt there had to be "some extraordinary quality in so beautiful a plant, which yet lieth hid from us."
Indeed, it is a well-know folk remedy that the sap of the jewelweed stem and leaves will relieve itching from Poison Ivy and nettles (in fact, it grows near them). It has also been used to cure athlete's foot and recent scientific data has backed its effectiveness as a fungicide.
Photos by the author