(Part of my Blowing on Embers series)
About this time of year I’m overcome with nostalgia. What brings it on is the flowering of touch-me-nots. My now grown children groan in exasperation whenever they hear me mention these wildflowers—they know what’s coming next.
It’s the story of how these jewel-toned flowers remind me it’s time for the school year to start in these parts. How I fondly remember watching the two of them emerge from a heavy fog as they walked up our newly-graded and graveled road after their first day of school barely more than a month after we moved up here on the diagonal. (Punkin was a fourth-grader, wishing she was back in the Brown School in Louisville. It was Cuddlebug’s very first day of school anywhere.) How their arrival home from late-summer school days was often delayed because they couldn’t resist the urge to stop along the way to do exactly the opposite of the warning implied by the plant’s name and pop the flowers’ seedpods. It’s an addictive pursuit, and it was a fun way to end the school day.
Handling a touch-me-not is a uniquely rewarding and giggle-worthy experience. The seedpods don’t look particularly fragile, but when they’re mature, the slightest movement causes a virtual explosion, with tiny seeds catapulting onto the landscape—no doubt the reason this wildflower is so prevalent in territory friendly to its needs. The steep banks along our country roads are saturated with touch-me-not plants right now.
Also known as jewelweed, this prolific wildflower may be either yellow or orange, each variety’s flowers freckled with deep reddish-brown spots near and in their deep throats. Their nectar-filled spurs make them attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. In appearance, they strike me as a cross between miniature orchids and larkspurs.Touch-me-nots are common throughout all of the U. S. with the exception of a few western states. They’re fascinating plants—beautiful, useful, quirky, and irresistible to kids of all ages. Once you’ve popped a few seedpods, you never outgrow the urge when you come upon a patch of these intriguing plants.
When a seedpod bursts open, either on its own or with a little human help, the hull instantly curls up into tight coils, like small, green springs. It’s all so fast you can’t see it happening. A captivating sight in itself. And even though you know that little explosion is coming and are waiting for it, it will inevitably make you jump in startled surprise.
The leaves are just as intriguing. If you find yourself in a patch of jewelweed on a dewy morning or just after a rain, its leaves will be the only dry thing around, displaying little beads of water on their surface. Dancing in sunlight, the water glistens like diamonds.
Submerge a leaf in water with its underside facing up and it turns silver. Pull it out and it will be dry, with only a few droplets of water here and there.
Touch-me-nots also have medicinal uses. The best-known and most practical use is as a remedy for itching. In fact, they’re often found in conveniently close proximity to itch-inducing poison ivy and stinging nettle. By breaking open the liquid-filled stems and spreading the watery sap on skin that’s been exposed to these plants or to insect bites or stings, you’ll most likely experience immediate relief.
And you can even eat the little seeds. They taste a lot like walnuts–really! Granted, it would take a lot of collecting to get enough to bake into a dish, but it’s a handy thing to know if you happen to find yourself lost and hungry in the midst of these delightful plants.
All this and nostalgia, too.
The sight of touch-me-nots, the start of the school year, the long held vision of our children in their first-day-of-school finery, the hint of autumn in the air, the memory of those first days of house-building—all these things represent the beginning of our life on the diagonal.
Kids, if you didn’t already realize, you might as well get used to it because whenever touch-me-nots are in bloom, I’ll continue to reminisce aloud about this giant tangle of sweet memories.