Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 15, 2008

Hidden Jewels

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:20 pm

   The belief that Jewelweed helps to stop the effects of Poison Ivy is nearly as prevalent as the plant itself.  In case of the ivy itches, so goes the saying, crumple up a bunch of Jewelweed leaves and briskly rub the affected spot to relieve the rash.  It is a nice idea, but baseless. The juicy leaves do provide some moist towelet action, but the weed offers no real chemical anti-dote to the ivy.

  The Spotted Jewelweed has no need of any such false properties to make it worthy of attention. This late summer/autumn bloomer is an eye-catcher – especially on dewy mornings.  Jewel-like beads of water adorn every leaf (a possible reason behind the name) and the orange flowers glow in the low angled rays of the sunrise.

  Jewelweed flowers are shaped something like upside down elf shoes, with tubular openings and long spurs at the “toe.”  Hummingbirds and long-tongued bees are the primary pollinators. These critters are able to reach way back to the nectar reserve which is located in the spur. As they do so, they brush past the anthers and distribute the pollen. A few sneaky minded bees, however, have learned to chew holes in the spurs and bypass what nature intended.

  One wonders if these sneaky nectar thieves are ever struck down by lightening for perpetrating crimes against the natural order?  I doubt they are, because these flowers are not the primary reproductive means of this plant.  It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature but, then again, she is not easily fooled.

  Hidden in plain view among the showy flowers are dozens of tiny flowers without petals (see here). These micro blooms never open and are, in fact, the primary seed production sites. They are not subject to thievery or admiration. Like plain, but smart, sisters they go about their job in relative obscurity while their showy siblings get all the glory and only half the work done.

  Regardless of who actually makes the seeds, the single most spectacular thing about the Spotted Jewelweed is it’s method of getting rid of them. The seed pods are touch-sensitive and when ripe they explode upon contact. A swollen pod (see here) looks something like a green peanut by the time it is ready to ‘blow.” All it takes is a gentle brushing or touch to set the explosive reaction off in which the skin splits and the central core curls back like a spring. In the process, two or three large seeds are sent flying (see here).  There is little wonder that these plants are often called “Touch-Me-Nots.”

  By the way, the next time you set off one of these little pods you should grab a few of the seeds and pop ‘em in your mouth. Then, while you’re at it, roll naked in a patch of Poison Ivy and bath yourself in jewelweed stems. The end result of this activity will be that you’ll discover that the seeds have a nice nutty taste and that Mother Nature has no mercy for stupidity.

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