Three pink impatiens with red centers.
Stable

Impatiens

Impatiens walleriana
  • DIVISION: Tracheophyta
  • CLASS: Magnoliopsida (dicots)
  • ORDER: Ericales
  • FAMILY: Balsaminaceae
  • GENUS: Impatiens
  • SPECIES: walleriana

OVERVIEW

Native to eastern Africa, I. walleriana occurs naturally from Kenya to Mozambique, where it grows along shady waterways and at the edges of wetlands. An a herbaceous perennial in its native habitat, this cheery little plant has naturalized in many other areas of the world, including parts of North America, Australia and several Pacific islands. It attracts bees and butterflies that help pollinate the plants.

CHARACTERISTICS

This familiar succulent-stemmed plant grows in a spreading mound to about two feet (61 centimeters) tall, with stems, leaves, and flowers that are soft and easily broken or bruised. Glossy leaves are elliptic, with finely scalloped or toothed edges and pointed tips. From spring through fall, 1- to 2-inch (2.5- to 5-centimeter) flowers cover the plant. Depending on the cultivar, the flat, five-petaled flowers may be red, pink, orange, purple, white, or variegated.

CULTIVATION

Arguably the most popular bedding plant in the US, impatiens are prized for their easy care and ability to flower in the shade. They also thrive as houseplants or in container gardens such as pots, window boxes, and hanging planters. They need fertile, moist (but not soggy) soil and part to full shade, although they do just fine with morning sunshine. They don't tolerate frost, so in most areas they are planted as annuals, but they are perennials in warmer parts of the country—including San Diego. You can grow impatiens from seeds or stem cuttings, but six-packs of small plants—typically inexpensive and easy to find—give them a head start in your garden. Have fun choosing the colors you like best! Pinching back the stems encourages branching and leafy, full growth.

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IMPATIENT

Ever wonder where this flower's name comes from? Apparently these flowers are impatient to propagate. The slightest touch on their pods sends seeds springing forth—an adaptation for seed dispersal.

MORE NAMES

This plant was originally named I. sultana in honor of the Sultan of Zanzibar, where plants were collected in the 1800s. In the United Kingdom, it's known as a "busy Lizzie."

RELATIVE

Does your garden get too much sun for impatiens? Try the related New Guinea impatiens I. hawkeri, which can grow in part shade or full sun.

HOPE FOR FLOWERS

Love impatiens? Credit horticulturist Claude Hope, who introduced them to the US in the 1960s. Hope started the Pan American Seed Company and bred these flowers in its nursery in Costa Rica.

SAFARI PARK

Look for impatiens at the Safari Park inside the tropical Hidden Jungle aviary.

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