Sunday, November 04, 2007

Impatiens balfourii seed collecting

The last of my Impatiens balfourii plants, commonly called Poor Man's Orchid, are going to seed. This somewhat obscure Himalayan annual has seed pods that, when ripe, explode when touched. That makes for some pretty challenging and often comical seed collecting.

My friend Weeder gave me seeds a few years ago and because I. balfourii is a reliable reseeder, I haven't had to replant. Her mom planted seed many, many years ago on the family ranch in Carmichael and Weeder has cultivated them-- or they've cultivated themselves-- since taking over the property after her folks were gone. Since she took over the property, not the seeds. Now that she's in the process of selling the place to a developer, we're both collecting seed to save and share around.

I've gotten pretty good at catching seeds in my left hand while gently pinching a pod with my right hand at the point where the pod connects to the stem. That seems to be the trigger point. Weeder reported that she caught a fair number of seeds recently... in her hair. The rest made it into a paper bag.

I'm playing around with making custom seed packets using coin envelopes (Office Max, Office Depot, etc.) and printing my own labels.

I wondered if it would be easy to find I. balfourii seeds online and it's not! Select Seeds doesn't have them. Annie's Annuals sells the plant, but not at this time. Thompson & Morgan? Nope. Johnny's? Nope. J.L. Hudson? Nope. Hortus Botanicus? YES! I shouldn't be surprised. This super coolest of nurseries in Fort Bragg, CA has lots of amazing plants.

On Dave's Garden, two DG members want it and one has it for trade. I'd be interested in knowing if other garden bloggers are growing it and where they obtained seed. Did you buy it? Was it passed along by a friend or family member?

I suppose Poor Man's Orchid could become invasive under the right circumstances, but unless you have nothing but shade and moist soil, it should remain a well-contained and welcome rarity. The plants are easy to pull but are so pretty that you won't want to.


  1. Anonymous9:43 PM

    In late spring '07 I received one i. balfourii plant from a garden club member. In spring '08 it looked like I had a million seedlings. Even after digging up alot of seedlings and giving those away, I have many plants. I'm sure to have a bazillion more next year (unless the guineas ate the seed).
    A good plant in my out-of-the-way shade garden. Seems forgiving and recovers from drought-induced wilt when I forget to water over there. I checked for seed pods in the almost-dark: didn't see any - will re-check in daylight. I'm curious now to save seeds. Thanks, Angela!

  2. I'm crazy about this plant. It grew very robustly in my aunt's garden when I was a kid and I think I fell in love with it at least partly because of its common name. I rediscovered it in a friend's garden a couple years ago and he passed some plants on to me. They've come back every year since then and pop up in unexpected places, but I never seem to catch it in seed so that I can save some and actually put the plant where I want it! Oh well. This is one re-seeder that I'm happy to see almost anywhere

  3. I love using the coin envelopes for seed, but I haven't graduated yet to printing my own labels. Do you print them on sticky paper, or do you print them on regular paper and glue them to the packet?

  4. I'm currently using HP Bright White inkjet printer paper and am manually cutting out the labels (ugh), but would love to find an adhesive inkjet label that fits a seed packet. I use an acid-free, non-toxic glue from 3M, also available at office supply stores.

    Laser printers are more fade- and water-resistant, but they're expensive. Oh, and I don't have one. ;-)

  5. Anonymous10:12 AM

    The seeds in the coin envelopes with your own labels is sheer GENIUS! Thanks for the tip. I have the worst time figuring out how to store and label my seeds. Not anymore...:-)

  6. My first trip to your blog! What wonderful photos! I really enjoyed it.

  7. Now I have a name for the plant that used to grow in my grandmother's back yard! Grandma, alas, is gone and so, alas, is her house (in the name of progress). I knew the plant by its common name, and I have fond memories of standing in the shade, rolling those seed pods between my fingers for the pleasure of feeling them explode. Now I have to find out where to get some!

  8. Beautiful picture of a beautiful plant. Thanks for sharing information about a plant that clearly deserves more attention.

  9. hey there

    I've just found your blog today and find it inspirational...I've just bought some land (Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia) and am about to embark upon what i expect to be the long journey of building the house and eventually all the gardens.

    So far the earthmovers have arrived.... and the bulldozer broke down on the first day.

  10. Anonymous5:58 PM

    HEY! It's been too long without an Angela post. Hope you're well and out gardening in this faux-spring weather.
    I don't have ANY I. balfourii seedpods left.
    I'm sure I'll have millions of babies in spring - there's a photo op!

  11. I am concerned that this pretty thing may be invasive. I live in East Central VT. I got my seeds from a Maine coastal town. This town appeared to be overrun, & I foolishly didn't consider that when I got my seeds. From my few seeds, sprinkled in my wildflower garden in Fall 2001, eight years later I've got tons of the stuff. Yes, insects (including Japanese beetles unfortunately) adore it. Are you all sure this plant won't outcompete the natives? I can't find info. (yet?) on i. balfouri invasiveness, but I don't want to be a perpetrator.

  12. p.s. on invasiveness: I did find out that i. balfourii is native to Kashmir & India.

  13. Louise11:23 AM

    I just found out that I have one of these and am excited now!! Never knew what it was. I'm going to collect seeds, is now the time?

  14. Anonymous8:27 AM

    Hello! I live in Port Townsend, WA. I just bought a house here, have this plant on the North side of the house, living in a bed of rocks. The plants are at least 6' tall, going to seed and does exactly what its supposed to do; explode with the slightest touch, startling at first.

    I found your web site while looking for seeds for this plant, in case I'm not clever enough to capture a few in flight for myself and other gals who want it. I plan to go out there with a large paper bag.

    Sunset Zone 4-5 Best to All, Caroline

    According to what I've read, the plant is shallow rooted (yup, I pulled up one to see that for myself), non-invasive, easy to pull out if the seeds germinate in the lawn. The bees love it so I wake up to buzzing bees every morning, can hardly wait for next year, see what comes up among the ferns in the rock bed along foundation.