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What are New Guinea Impatiens?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
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  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2016
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New Guinea Impatiens, scientific name Impatiens x hawkeri, are popular flowering plants that are commonly planted as annuals for gardening purposes. They are closely related to common impatiens, although the flowers are larger and there is more variation to the foliage. They are native to the island of New Guinea in the South Pacific, and were brought to the U.S. for cultivation in the 1970s. New Guinea Impatiens are very easy to care for plants that provide lots colorful flowers all summer.

As larger plants than their cousins, New Guinea Impatiens typically grow to a height of 12 to 24 inches (30.5 to 61 cm) and spread out to a width that is approximately the same. They have tender, succulent stems with a lighter green than the leaves and branch out in many directions. The large leaves have a smooth, glossy look with an elongated oval shape that comes to a point. There is some variety to the foliage color, from dark forest green, bronze, to variegated forms in different shades of green.

The flowers of the New Guinea Impatiens are large and showy. They come in an array of colors such as pink, red, white, purple, and orange. The colors are often intense, and some varieties feature blossoms with variation between two shades. Each flower has five heart shaped petals surrounding a small center stamen.

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New Guinea Impatiens were first introduced to the U.S. in 1970, by two plant collectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Harold Winters and J.J. Higgins collected them as wildflower specimens on a trip to New Guinea jointly sponsored by the U.S. government and Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, which produced about a dozen examples that were utilized to create the varieties used in gardens today. New Guinea Impatiens originated in a hot tropical climate as perennials, although today they are planted as annuals in gardens. If the conditions are just right they are able to behave as perennials, but they are usually unable to survive the winter in most locations.

In the garden, New Guinea Impatiens are very versatile and can be planted in borders, flower beds, and containers. They do well in the shade or in partial indirect sunlight, but if planted in full sunlight they will require daily watering. They prefer soil that has been enriched with compost or other organic matter, and need enough water to keep the soil moist, but not saturated. They tend to wilt if allowed to dry out but recover quickly once watered. With regular watering and occasional fertilizer applications, they will bloom steadily from mid-spring until frost.

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