One day, Abednego Otela, a florist at Umoja Gardens opposite Nyali Cinemax, Mombasa went home and found that the flowers and leaves of his balsam plant, grown in his garden, had been plucked.
“My house was fenced but surprisingly, the leaves of balsam plant had been plucked while I was away. I told my friends the incident and they laughed at me because they knew it was used to make henna by women in my village,” Mr Otela says.
Impatiens balsamina is a plant that originates from southern Asia and the natives crush its flowers and leaves to obtain its juice which they use instead of henna (Lawsonia alba) for dyeing finger and toenails.
Mostly, the red flowers are used to make the body dye. The plant has nicknames including touch me not, jumping Betty and lady’s slipper. Balsam is referred to “touch me not” because its pods burst open when they mature and the seeds scatter everywhere.
Mr Otela says the plants grow about 12 to 24 inches tall, making balsam a good flower for the borders. To grow these plants, sow the seeds that sprout after four to five days in moist soil.
Leaves of balsam plants are dark green, lance-shaped and slightly toothed. Balsams have flowers with double petals which are produced along the stem endowed with pink, white, red and purple colours and are easily noticed.
The florist–cum-gardener for seven years now says balsam is a good outdoor plant and can be planted in the garden or potted at the balcony.
“However, it needs average light because direct sunlight may cause browning of the foliage,” the florist says.
Mr Otela says balsam plants should be watered once a day, preferably in the evening.
“Keep the soil moist throughout the growing season of balsam plant. They will continue to bloom even in very dry weather,” he says.
Green to yellow
In addition, a balsam in pots and hanging baskets needs frequent watering. Check the leaves for pests and spray with insecticides if any.
“Weeding is also important for the balsam plant. They have thick stems full of sap and weeds make the stems weak,” Mr Otela said.
Balsam is an annual plant, meaning that it completes its life cycle, which starts at germination to the production of seeds and then it dies. The pods turn colour from green to yellow to indicate that they are ripe.
Mr Otela says they produce hundreds of the seeds and when left to burst open on their own, numerous seedlings will sprout around the main plant.
“You can collect the seeds at the end of the season to plant in other areas. During harvesting, place a bag or cupped hand very close to the pods because the pods with ripe seeds will burst and self-propagate when pinched,” the gardener says.