Observe the common touch-me-not, impatiens capensis. When I say common, I mean it grows on every roadside and creek bank in Pulaski County, and the New River Trail is lined with it. August is its bloom time, and yesterday, driving about with a heavy heart, I went looking for it.
This is like saying “I went looking for air.” It’s everywhere. Really. We even have the more rare yellow variety. The touch-me-not, also known as jewelweed, has a number of wonderful qualities. It’s very pretty to look at, first of all, with speckled, orchid-like blooms. It’s related to domestic impatiens, which explains why it grows in moist shade.
It’s also useful. Touch-me-not sap has antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. You can use it to treat poison ivy, too, and I know from personal experience that it will relieve the pain of stinging nettles.
But the really cool, really amazing thing about these plants is how they got their name. The seed pods of the touch-me-not, when they mature, are sensitive to heat and pressure. If you touch one, it doesn’t just open; it explodes. The seeds go shooting out, leaving behind a star-shaped pod that has curled back on itself. The unwary have been known to scream when a touch-me-not goes off in their hands.
Playing with touch-me-not pods is almost as much fun as scaring frogs. (If you’ve never done that, go do it, right now. The frogs make a “Yike!” noise that never fails to crack me up.) Suzanne, the queen of touch-me-nots, still can be found, in August, popping the pods and laughing like a maniac.
The world is full of joy-sucking things, things that make us old and sad before our time. But it’s got touch-me-nots in it, too, and they are everywhere. It’s Saturday; go find some to play with and laugh for a while.