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Impatiens scapiflora at
Silent Valley National Park, South India
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Unranked: Angiosperms
Unranked: Eudicots
Unranked: Asterids
Order: Ericales
Family: Balsaminaceae
Genus: Impatiens

850–1,000; see text

Impatiens is a genus of about 850–1,000 species of flowering plants, widely distributed throughout the Northern Hemisphere and tropics. Together with the puzzling Hydrocera triflora, this genus makes up the family Balsaminaceae. Such a situation is highly unusual, and phylogenetic studies might reveal that Impatiens needs to be split up; some of its species might be closer to Hydrocera than to their presumed congeners.

Common names include impatiens, jewelweeds, and, somewhat ambiguously, "balsams" and "touch-me-nots". As a rule-of-thumb, "jewelweed" is used exclusively for Nearctic species, "balsam" is usually applied to tropical species, and "touch-me-not" is typically used in Europe and North America. Some species commonly planted in horticulture have altogether more fanciful names, such as "Busy Lizzie" (the well-known I. walleriana).


Some species are annual plants and produce flowers from early summer until the first frost, while perennial species, found in milder climates, can flower all year. Regardless of their lifespan, the largest impatiens grow up to about 2 meters (c. 7 ft) tall, but most are less than half as tall. The leaves are entire and shiny; their upperside has a thick, water-repellent cuticula that gives them a greasy feel. Particularly on the underside of the leaves, tiny air bubbles are trapped under the leaf surface, giving them a silvery sheen that becomes pronounced when held under water. The name "jewelweed" possibly refers to these shiny leaves, particularly obvious after rains when water drops reflect the sunlight like a prism. However it is more likely that the name is derived from the robin egg blue of the surface of the seed beneath the dark brown aril, or seed coat.

The flowers, up to 2–3 cm, around 1 inch long, in most species are made up by a shoe- or horn-shaped spur for the most part, with at least the upper petals insignificant by comparison; some have a prominent labellum though, allowing pollinators to land. Others, like the Busy Lizzie (I. walleriana), have flattened flowers with large petals and just a tiny spur that appear somewhat similar to violets (Viola), though these are unrelated eudicots. A few Impatiens species have flowers quite intermediate between those two basic types.

These plants derives their scientific name Impatiens (Latin for "impatient") and the common name "touch-me-not" in reference to their seed capsules. When the capsules mature, they "explode" when touched, sending seeds several meters away. This mechanism is also known as "explosive dehiscence"; see also Rapid plant movement.

Ecology and uses[]

Balsams grow both in and out of direct sunlight; they prefer moist, rich soils, like roadside ditches, reed beds, fens, river banks and forest edges, and many are well able to colonize disturbed ruderal locations.

Impatiens foliage is used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species (e.g. Dot Moth, Melanchra persicariae), as well as other insects, such as the Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica). The leaves are toxic to many other animals, including the Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus), but this popular pet will eat balsam flowers eagerly and as it seems it is not harmed by them. The flowers are visited by bumblebees and certain Lepidoptera, such as the Common Spotted Flat (Celaenorrhinus leucocera)

A parasitic plant using balsams as host is the European Dodder (Cuscuta europea). For plant diseases affecting this genus, see List of impatiens diseases.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, humans transported the Orange Jewelweed (I. capensis) to England, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, Finland, and potentially other areas of Northern and Central Europe. For example, it was not recorded from Germany as recently as 1996,[1] but since then a population seems to have established itself in Hagen at the Ennepe river. These naturalized populations persist despite the plant not being grown in gardens on a regular basis. The Orange Jewelweed is quite similar to the Touch-me-not Balsam (I. noli-tangere) – the only Impatiens species native to Central and Northern Europe – and utilizes similar habitats, but no evidence exists of natural hybrids. Small Balsam (I. parviflora), originally native to southern Central Asia, is even more extensively naturalized in Europe. More problematic is the Himalayan Balsam (I. glandulifera), a high-growing species which displaces smaller plants by denying them sunlight. It is an invasive weed in many places, and tends to dominate riparian vegetation along polluted rivers and nitrogen-rich spots. Thus, it exacerbates ecosystem degradation by forming stands where few other plants can grow, and by rendering riverbanks more prone to erosion as it has only a shallow root system.

(I. hawkeri), have commercial importance as garden plants with a yearly business volumeTemplate:Where of about US $230 million. I. walleriana was originally collected from Costa Rica (where it grows as a weed), and bred through selection by Claude Hope. The original series of impatiens bred by Hope was the 'Elfin' series of cultivars, which was subsequently improved as the 'Super Elfin' series. Double-flowered cultivars also exist. But in tropical islands, such as Hawaiʻi, Busy Lizzie can also become a noxious weed.

Other Impatiens species, such as I. auricoma, Garden Balsam (I. balsamina), Blue Diamond Impatiens (I. namchabarwensis), Parrot Flower (I. psittacina), Congo Cockatoo (I. niamniamensis), Ceylon Balsam (I. repens) or Poor Man's Rhododendron (I. sodenii) are also often seen as ornamental plants. Note that insecticidal soap, commonly used against insect pests as it is less harmful to the environment and to most beneficial insects than halocarbon insecticides, is very toxic to some balsams. When controlling insect pests on Impatiens, insecticidal soap should be avoided.

The starkly differing flower shapes found in this genus, combined with the easy cultivation of many species, have served to make some balsam species model organisms in plant evolutionary developmental biology. Also, Impatiens is rather closely related to the carnivorous plant families Roridulaceae and Sarraceniaceae. Peculiar stalked glands found on balsam sepals secrete mucus and might be related to the structures from which the prey-catching and -digesting glands of these carnivorous plants evolved. Balsams are not known to be protocarnivorous plants however.

Selected species[]

  • Impatiens acaulis, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens acehensis
  • Impatiens adenioides Suksathan & Keerat[2]
  • Impatiens arguta
  • Impatiens arriensii
  • Impatiens aurellaPale-yellow Jewelweed
  • Impatiens auricoma
  • Impatiens balfouriiKashmir Balsam
  • Impatiens balsaminaGarden Balsam, Rose Balsam
  • Impatiens bicornuta
  • Impatiens calcicolathian pa (Thai)
  • Impatiens campanulata
  • Impatiens capensisOrange Jewelweed, Common Jewelweed, Spotted Jewelweed, Orange Balsam
  • Impatiens celebica
  • Impatiens chinensis
  • Impatiens charisma Suksathan & Keerat[2]
  • Impatiens chumphonensis T. Shimizu[3]
  • Impatiens cristata
  • Impatiens daraneenae Suksathan & Triboun[2]
  • Impatiens dempoana
  • Impatiens denisonii, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens dewildeana
  • Impatiens diepenhorstii
  • Impatiens doitungensis Triboun & Sonsupab[2]
  • Impatiens ecalcarataSpurless Touch-me-not
  • Impatiens edgeworthii
  • Impatiens etindensis
  • Impatiens eubotrya
  • Impatiens flaccida
  • Impatiens forbesii
  • Impatiens frithii
  • Impatiens glanduliferaHimalayan Balsam, Indian Balsam, Policeman's Helmet
  • Impatiens gordonii
  • Impatiens grandis
  • Impatiens grandisepala
  • Impatiens halongensis
  • Impatiens hawkeri W.BullNew Guinea Impatiens, Spreading Impatiens
  • Impatiens heterosepala
  • Impatiens hians
  • Impatiens holstii
  • Impatiens hongkongensisHong Kong Balsam
  • Impatiens irvingii
  • Impatiens javensis
  • Impatiens jerdoniae
  • Impatiens jiewhoei Triboun & Suksathan[2]
  • Impatiens kilimanjariKilimanjaro Impatiens
  • Impatiens korthalsiana
  • Impatiens laticornis, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens lawsonii, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens letouzeyi
  • Impatiens levingei, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens linearifolia
  • Impatiens malabarica
  • Impatiens marianae
  • Impatiens meruensis
  • Impatiens mirabilis
  • Impatiens morsei
  • Impatiens namchabarwensisBlue Diamond Impatiens
  • Impatiens namkatensis T. Shimizu[3]
  • Impatiens neo-barnesii, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens niamniamensis GilgCongo Cockatoo
  • Impatiens nilagirica, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens noli-tangereTouch-me-not Balsam
  • Impatiens obesa
  • Impatiens omeiana
  • Impatiens oppositifolia
  • Impatiens orchioides, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens oreophila Triboun & Suksathan[2]
  • Impatiens pallidaPale Jewelweed, Yellow Jewelweed
  • Impatiens parvifloraSmall Balsam, Small-flowered Touch-me-not
  • Impatiens paucidentata
  • Impatiens petersiana
  • Impatiens phahompokensis T. Shimizu & P. Suksathan[4]
  • Impatiens phengklaii T. Shimizu & P. Suksathan[4]
  • Impatiens platypetala
  • Impatiens pritzelii
  • Impatiens pseudoviola Gilg
  • Impatiens psittacinaParrot Flower
  • Impatiens pyrrhotricha
  • Impatiens repensCeylon Balsam, Yellow Impatiens
  • Impatiens rosulata
  • Impatiens rufescens, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens ruthiae Suksathan & Triboun[2]
  • Impatiens sakerana
  • Impatiens salpinx Schulze & Launert
  • Impatiens santisukii T. Shimizu[3]
  • Impatiens scabrida DC.
  • Impatiens scapiflora, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens sidikalangensis
  • Impatiens singgalangensis
  • Impatiens sirindhorniae Triboun & Suksathan[2]
  • Impatiens sivarajanii
  • Impatiens sodenii Engl. & Warb.Poor Man's Rhododendron
  • Impatiens spectabilis Triboun & Suksathan[2]
  • Impatiens sulcata
  • Impatiens sultana
  • Impatiens sumatrana
  • Impatiens tapanuliensis
  • Impatiens tenella, Nilgiri Hills endemic
  • Impatiens textorii Miq.
  • Impatiens teysmanni
  • Impatiens thomassetii
  • Impatiens tigrina Suksathan & Triboun[2]
  • Impatiens tinctoria A.Rich.
  • Impatiens tribounii T. Shimizu & P. Suksathan[4]
  • Impatiens wallerianaBusy Lizzie
  • Impatiens wilsoni
  • Impatiens zombensis Baker


  1. Bäßler et al. (1996)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Suksathan, P. and P. Triboun. 2009. Ten new species of Impatiens (Balsaminaceae) from Thailand. Gardens’ Bulletin Singapore 61. (1): 159 - 184.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Shimizu, T. 2000. New species of the Thai Impatiens (Balsaminaceae): 2. Bulletin of the National Science Museum, Ser. B (Botany). Tokyo, Vol. 26: 35 – 42.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Shimizu, T. and P. Suksathan. 2004. Three new species of the Thai Impatiens (Balsaminaceae). Part 3. Bulletin of the National Science Museum, Ser. B (Botany). Tokyo, Vol. 30(4): 165 – 171.

External links[]