I’m not sure there is anything new to say about Spotted Jewelweeds unless I start making things up. Did you know that these plants will cure insomnia, urushoil rashes, and kleptomania? Well, they don’t – I just made up two of these things! Of course the insomnia and klepto things are ridiculous fabrications on my part, but the rash thing is not of my making. Urushoil is the substance produced by Poison Ivy, and Jewelweed has long been touted as a “cure” for ivy rashes. A persistent folk belief maintains that Jewelweed juice serves as a poison ivy antidote. Unfortunately, this has never been proven. There isn’t a lick of proof that the juicy crushed stems do anything more than cleanse the affected areas (as would water or grape juice). Yet, the idea remains.
You know, this plant really doesn’t need the false label as a Poison ivy cure to make it “worthwhile.” It has many many worthy – and tangible – attributes. Take the showy flowers, for instance. Late summer/early fall is the time for these plants to produce blooms of near orchid quality. The speckled orange structures looks like wrinkled cornucopias suspended on delicate threads. They have five petals, but they are hard to distinguish in their own right. One petal forms an upper canopy, two are fused to form a large lower lip, and two small lateral (side) petals balance out the presentation.
A long curved spur serves as a nectar receptacle. Pollinators are encouraged to touch down on the ample landing pad and crawl deep into the flower to reach the rich nectar source in the spur (40% sugar content according to one reference). In so doing they are dabbed with pollen from a chandelier-like anther pad on the roof of the flower tunnel. Some bumblebees and yellow jackets, however, have been known to bypass this route and cut sipping holes directly into the spur itself.
You might be tempted to declare the before mentioned bee types as scoundrels (worthy of stinging remarks), but you should consider that Spotted Jewelweeds also produce non-opening green flowers that do not depend on insect pollination, thank you very much. These unassuming closed flowers are self pollinating. Called “cleistogomous” flowers, this neat Greek word means “secret marriage” and it implies exactly what you think about what happens behind closed doors on this plant. Take a look at the image below to see a few of these secret flowers above and to the left of the showy blossoms (I’ll leave to your imagination as to what is going on inside them!).
Both the self fertilized and “normally” fertilized flowers eventually turn into seed pods. These explosive pods are all that the Jewelweed really needs to capture our attention. If you have never popped a Jewelweed pod then you have not lived. If you have not done this repeatedly then you have not really popped a Jewelweed pod. I have put together a short sequence (view here) to show you what Jewelweed popp’n really is.
In short, the bean-like pods become pressurized as they mature (see beginning photo). They possess a central spring with four or five large triangular seeds attached. All it takes is the slightest external contact to set them off. In a blurred motion, the five parts of the pod suddenly separate and curl up to the tip. This action hurls the seeds hither and yon and separates the pod from the plant (see below). The actual hurling distance is only a foot or two, but it is dramatic.
When a pod is fully triggered is appears like a peanut. A drop of rain or even a brush of air will set them off. Thinner pods take a bit more coxing, but they too will pop with a little prompting.
So there you have it. Seek out your nearest spotted Jewelweed patch and go at it my friend. I challenge you to do this only once. Like ruffle potato chips you just can’t treat yourself to one. You will be doing the Jewelweed a favor (it reproduces exclusively by seed) and, in turn, curing any boredom you may have.