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Impatiens elegans – The elegant balsam

Impatiens elegans on the forest floor among ferns!

Introduction

Impatiens elegans – the elegant balsam is a common, yet beautiful species of Balsam found in the Western Ghats of India. It is during the bountiful monsoon months these beautiful plants erupt in abundance and decorate the forest floor, streams and small waterfalls that run through the forests with pretty pink flowers.

Taxonomy

Order : Ericales

Family : Balsaminaceae

Genus : Impatiens

Species : elegans

Distribution

It is found only in the two states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala of India and nowhere else in the world. It grows above the elevation of 1200 meters above sea level and is found up to 1800 meters above sea level. Impatiens elegans is endemic to the Southern Western Ghats. They are found only to the south of Palghat pass. Their range starts from the Nelliyampathy and Anamalai hills and extends up to Agasthiyamalai Hills in the South.

Range of Impatiens elegans
The range of Impatiens elegans

Description

Habit and Habitat

It is a herb that grows up to a height of 30 to 40 cm. It grows near streams, on rocks constantly dripping with water, in the forest floor among leaf litter where it is constantly moist. It prefers to grow in cool, shaded, damp places of the forest where it gets almost a constant dripping of water. Thus, moist evergreen forests occurring at elevations above 1200 MSL support this plant. Wherever the conditions are just right for its survival, it grows in abundance and in huge colonies!

Impatiens elegans growing in big groups on the forest floor.

Stem

The stem is erect and branched. The stem roots whenever a node touches the soil. The stem is glabrous, i.e., without hairs. The stem is usually translucent, like glass and succulent. If you crush the stem, it will be very watery which suggests that the plant needs abundant water to thrive well.

Leaves

Leaves are ovate, cordate (heart-shaped at the base). The leaf margin is crenate (with curved tooth) with incurved bristles. The leaves are arranged in an alternate manner on the stems. The leaves may be hairy on nerves on the upper surface and pale and hairless on the lower surface.

Leaves of Impatiens elegans showing crenate margin with bristles.
Leaves showing crenate margin with bristles.

Flowers

Each peduncle bears 3 to 5 flowers in short umbels or short raceme like inflorescence. The flowers are about 2.5 cm across, pale pink to pink with a purple center. Bracts are ovate-lanceolate, tapering towards the end and recurved. The lateral sepals are ovate with a green ridge ending in an acumen (a sharp tapering point).

Impatiens elegans flowers.
Impatiens elegans flowers.

The lip (you have to turn the flower behind to see this) is boat-shaped, very small. The flower lacks a spur. This is an important character to distinguish Impatiens elegans from Impatiens cordata which has a spur. Other than this, both the plants look exactly the same. You can differentiate both these species with the absence and presence of spur (a tail-like appendage that extends from the lip) respectively.

Sideview of the flower showing the absence of spur.
Sideview of the flower showing the absence of spur.

Fruits

Fruits are inflated capsules with seeds. The capsules are ovoid, elliptical, ridged, beaked, bulged in the middle, green, hairless, about 1.2 cm in length. The seeds are sub-spherical and hairy.

When mature, these are ready to burst anytime just with a light touch. This can even be done by a raindrop! The capsule bursts catapulting the seeds away from the mother plant.

Impatiens elegans fruit focused.

Conservation status and threats

Impatiens elegans is an endangered plant where it faces threats from loss of habitats. The habitats in which this plant grows are unfortunately best suited for tea and coffee plantations. There is huge pressure from the private tea plantations extending their area by destroying their habitat. These delicate plants already face huge pressure from climate change, failing monsoons and lack of pollinators, poor seed germination, flowers and leaves eaten by herbivore insects, and more from nature! Destruction of habitats is yet another death blow to the survival of these plants. It is necessary to preserve their habitats and preserve these species…

More Photos!

Impatiens elegans growing on a dripping rock.
Impatiens elegans growing on a small waterfall.
A mosaic of beautiful Impatiens elegans leaves and flowers!
A mosaic of beautiful Impatiens elegans leaves and flowers!
Impatiens elegans growing in large groups on the roadsides, happily under the shade of evergreen trees!
Impatiens elegans growing in large groups on the roadsides, happily under the shade of evergreen trees!

References and Further Reading

  1. Valparai Plant Trip – Happy Botanist
  2. Impatiens elegans – Flowers of India
  3. A research article on the reproductive biology of Impatiens elegans

Tags : Critically endangeredEndemismHabitat LossSouth Western GhatsWestern Ghats

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