Monster Impatiens: Leading the War Against Humanity


FYI: This is what passes for an impatiens in San Francisco. If you live in a warmer climate you will be unimpressed by my discovery. If you are from my neck of the woods your mind will have been blown wide open! In case you didn’t get the memo, San Francisco is a Utopian paradise where plants grow larger than life. Everything is bigger and better there, and I’m not just talking about the marijuana cigarettes. Our Northern version of an impatiens is a dull flowering annual commonly tossed into a monochromatic ring underneath small trees and accompanied by a border of decorative plastic edging. They rarely grow taller than 10 inches before they are dug up and tossed out at the end of the growing season.


It reaches as high as the bottle brush!

As you can guess from my unflattering description, I’ve never been a fan of these lackluster flowers. Really the only thing that makes them even marginally interesting is the fact that they are edible, and even that is nothing to write home about. But I think I can respect the impatiens I saw in San Francisco even if that respect is born out of the fear that a plant that can grow with that kind of vigor from out of a sidewalk crack could probably eat me for breakfast.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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15 thoughts on “Monster Impatiens: Leading the War Against Humanity

  1. Ciao Gayla-

    Haha, you know I’ve seen that exact plant before and never thought anything about it. The short ones sure are ubiquitous here. For me, personally, I think it’s more to do with the sheer lack of imagination that exists in so many gardens here than anything else. The preponderance of orange daylilies and red and white impatiens makes me want to scream. I’m currently purging my garden of most things yellow, orange, and pink. I’m going instead for unusual colours of certain flowers, such as black bachelor buttons, white sunflowers, white cosmos with pink edging, black scabiosa, blue and mahogany sweet peas, salmon and white nasturtiums.

    PS: That bottle brush? It’s a monster allergen plant. Acacia, too, so be careful. And please don’t touch any of the oleander that is all over the Bay Area. It’s poisonous.

    Hugs! Missing you. It’s going to be 20C tomorrow.


  2. Oleaner is not poinsonous to touch, just to eat, and only the white flowered variety as far as I know. The different shades of pink are planted on school campuses all over the bay area because they need little attention and grow quickly; the kids are still alive so I think that’s a good sign!

  3. I agree, i don’t like impatiens, EXCEPT i’ve always liked how their seed pods explode when you touch them. That was fun as a kid. Also, are you sure these are impatiens? I am quite sure I saw them growing natively in Costa Rica and they were still of the short variety.

  4. When I went to San Diego we went to the zoo. Walking through a wooded area I started to really look at some of the shrubbery and underbrush. Wasn’t underbrush at all, they were 6-foot ferns. I made them take my picture with one, they thought I was crazy. They looked exactly like the knee-high ferns we have around my house, but on steroids. I’ll never forget it.

  5. Aww, I like my boring little planter of impatiens. They grow so well every year. Most of my other plants die a horrible death.

    This year is going to be different though! The tomatoes I’ve started seem to be wonderfully healthy so far.

  6. All oleander is poisonous, and it won’t kill you to touch it, but you’re not supposed to get the sap on your hands. Not exactly sure what happens when you do, I just try to avoid it with mine though…

  7. I loved my impatiens in my last rental house- they were up and flowering in deep shade like nothing else I was aware of at the time could have. Plus, my parents, in an adorably accepting moment of their strangest daughter, had bought me a tray of a pink & lavender variety called “Boys & Girls”, and crossed out the “Boys” and written “Girls”. That would be one of their first ever acknowledgments of, you know, *that* side of my life. My “Girls & Girls” impatiens made me smile all summer.

    Also, in Australia at least, they are frequently eaten by some of the nicest looking caterpillars I’ve ever seen, with soft black velvet-feeling skin and big yellow ‘eyes’ on the side. Sadly they grow up to be dull-looking Impatiens Hawk Moths, but the caterpillars are beautiful.

  8. Those are certainly not impatiens. That is an oleander bush. See . They are only poisonous if they are ingested, especially the sap. They have been used as landscaping plants for a long time.

    Impatiens are a species of flower that are tender/tropical. . Notice the leaves are nothing like the picture above.

    They aren’t used in municipal planting like this. For on thing, they don’t get over a foot tall and are mostly for shade. There is a newer impatien that is sun-tolerant but its leaves are dark red.

  9. They are impatiens. The photo is blown out because I used a crappy camera that can’t take a decent picture if there is even a little sun. The flowers are not solid white they are white with a light purple hue along the edges. I spoke to two different gardeners about the plants while I was in San Francisco. I looked at countless pictures and read countless descriptions. Misinformation is rampant on the internet which is why I backed my identification up with other resources.

    Why is it so hard for people to believe these are impatiens?

  10. These look just like the impatiens growing at my Mum’s in Australia (she’s 2 hours south of Sydney, on the coast). They are perennial over there and her geraniums are also as tall as I am! Temperate climate is perfect for them. Gayla I believe you because I grew up with them! And so true there are so many varieties that sure there will always be teeny tiny impatiens, but the new guinea impatiens over there can grow quite tall. And I haven’t had an allergic reaction to bottle bush either (an Aussie native plant) and it attracts so many insects and parrots, everyone is planting native shrubs over there now to help the birds and little possums…

  11. Sally: Geraniums are HUGE like that in San Francisco too. It was quite a shock the first time I saw them. Also nasturtiums, radish, fennel, blackberries… they all end up growing wild and out-of-control in park areas. It always amazes me.

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