Northland Nature: Jewelweeds glow at wet sites

·3 min read

Aug. 12—With a sunrise at about 6 a.m. and sunset at nearly 8:30 p.m., the present daylight of 14.5 hours is much less than the 16 hours at the summer solstice. But we are still in summer — late summer.

As we move on, so the flora of roadsides changes. The trio that dominated July's scene — milkweeds, fireweeds and evening primroses — can still be found in bloom, but most have been forming seed pods as well.

Other wildflowers of July are also seen in seed production. Thistle down blows through these days, often getting caught in the ever-increasing numbers of spider webs and being selected by goldfinches for their late-season nesting. The tall plants of cow parsnip and water hemlock now stand with clusters of seeds. Dogbanes with the long-lasting white flowers now hold long pods of seeds.

But as the flora of July passes, they are replaced by those of August. I find that these days of late summer are again dominated by a trio: sunflowers, goldenrods and asters. Sunflowers are frequently tall with composites rays mostly of yellow. Goldenrods, also composites, have small florets of yellow on long branches. They may be from 2-8 feet tall.

Asters show more of a variety in their colors, ranging from white and light purple, to dark purple and blue. Asters may last the longest of the three, often going beyond the impending frosts. Despite their long season of flowering, all begin to bloom in late July.

But these are far from the full list of present late-summer flora. When the sunflowers, goldenrods and asters abound in the roadsides and fields, other plants put on quite a show in the wetlands. While paddling in the shallows recently, I saw the large leaves and white flowers of arrowheads rising out of the water close to yellows of loosestrife, both tufted and yellow (swamp candles).

Nearby was the white flowering boneset with its fused leaves, a growth of light-purple joe pye weeds, while bell-shaped blue harebells were further on land. Only about 2-3 feet tall are the orange flowers of spotted jewelweed.

Spotted jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), also called "touch-me-not," is common in the damp sites at this time. Unlike many of the local wildflowers, jewelweeds are annuals and replant each year. Plants may grow more than 3 feet tall, but I usually find smaller ones. Stems and leaves are green and succulent, with much liquid inside. Squeezing the stems can bring out this watery substance. Some say that this can be applied to help with poison ivy rashes.

Flowers are horn-shaped and orange, and spotted mostly on the undersides. Open on one end, they have a long spur on the other. Hummingbirds and bumbles bees take nectar and are the likely pollinators. The name "jewelweed" has two possible explanations: Some say that the hanging flowers look like earrings, while others note that rain and dew drops bead up on the plant, like jewels.

The name "touch-me-not" is a reference to the seed pods. Plants are self-dispersing. The one-inch pod will expel seeds in "explosion" when bumped. However, watching the seed pods sending out the new crop of seeds often invites us to want to touch them.

Jewelweed in our area is orange and tends to be in wet sites. Further to the south and east is a larger yellow jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) growing in more varied sites. The orange one here may be smaller, but it is a delightful color and growth addition to the late-season flora.