Friday, September 21, 2012

Impatient Impatiens

Species name: Impatiens walleriana

Common name: impatiens

Location: Ontario

This plant is one of those convenient species that the common name is the same as the Latin name, and is another that is native to eastern Africa (Mozambique to Kenya). The unfortunate part is that there are over 200 species in the genus, and the morphological variation in the flowers alone of the group are tremendous. Other common names for this genus are the jewelweeds, touch-me-nots, and balsams. I have no idea where that last common name comes from, since these plants are in no way related to the balsam tree. Strange.

One of the most remarkable characteristics of this group of plants is the mechanism by which the plants disperse their seeds. The seed pods have an explosive mechanism that when touched, launch the seeds at remarkable speeds away from the plant. This is a great adaptation, since the idea of reproducing is that you want your offspring to spread your genes around the environment, not reproduce directly at your feet. Plus, it makes the plants fun to play with!

This species is one of the most popular ornamental bedding plants in North America. There isn't much of a risk of this plant becoming invasive since it is relatively tropical in its native habitat and has very little chance of reproducing where there's a cold winter. But there are so many other species of attractive native plants that plants like this shouldn't be needed in a garden. Maybe one day native species will be more widely available in nurseries and so more gardeners will be exposed to the beauty of native plants.