Nature at Burnaby Lake - Himalayan Balsam and Still Creek

Still Creek and Himalayan balsam growing on the near bank
Still Creek and Himalayan balsam growing on the near bank | Source

Himalayan Balsam at Still Creek

Himalayan balsam is a lovely plant with attractive flowers and a strong fragrance. The flowers are hooded, giving the plant the alternate name of policeman's helmet. The plant grows as a wildflower and is also planted in gardens. Unfortunately, the Himalayan balsam is invasive in some areas.

One of the places where the Himalayan balsam can be found in British Columbia is around Still Creek in Burnaby. This creek travels across the centre of the city and eventually enters Burnaby Lake. The area where Still Creek approaches the lake and the land around the lake itself form a park known as the Burnaby Lake Regional Park.

I often visit Still Creek and Burnaby Lake and always have my camera with me. There are many beautiful and interesting plants and animals to be seen in the area, including the Himalayan balsam.

Still Creek in Burnaby Lake Regional Park

show route and directions
A markerBurnaby Lake, British Columbia -
Burnaby Lake, Burnaby, BC, Canada
[get directions]

B markerStill Creek, British Columbia -
Still Creek Avenue, Burnaby, BC, Canada
[get directions]

Still Creek looks beautiful as it approaches Burnaby Lake. It doesn't look like this throughout its route, however.
Still Creek looks beautiful as it approaches Burnaby Lake. It doesn't look like this throughout its route, however. | Source

Despite the creek's name, the water in Still Creek may not be "still". The water moves rapidly at some times of the year and in some parts of its route.

Still Creek in Burnaby

Burnaby is a city in the southwestern corner of British Columbia. The city contains many watercourses, including creeks and rivers, as well as several lakes. In recent times there has been a strong emphasis on maintaining and where necessary reestablishing the health of Burnaby's aquatic areas.

Burnaby contains areas of original and undeveloped landscape as well as many parks. It also contains residential, commercial and industrial areas. In the recent past, Still Creek suffered from its route through the industrial parts of the city and was heavily polluted. The water quality in the creek is now improving, however, due to the work of some very dedicated people. In fact, the quality of the water is currently so good that salmon have returned to the creek to spawn after an absence of about eighty years.

Himalayan Balsam or policeman's helmets
Himalayan Balsam or policeman's helmets | Source

The Himalayan Balsam or Policeman's Helmet

The scientific name of the Himalayan balsam is Impatiens glandulifera. As its common name suggests, it's native to the Himalayas. It has been introduced as a garden plant in many parts of the world due to its beauty. The plant has spread from gardens to the wild, where it's sometimes invasive and annoying.

Stems and Leaves

The Himalayan balsam is a tall plant and may reach a height of nine feet or more. The stems are generally hollow and are green or red in colour. The main stem of the plant sometimes becomes thick and cane-like. The large leaves are lanceolate (long, narrow and tapering to a point) and are toothed. The midrib of the leaves is prominent. The plant's roots are quite shallow and weak, which makes hand pulling of the plants feasible.

Flowers

A single plant produces multiple flowering stems. Himalayan balsam flowers may be white, light pink, dark pink, purple or multicoloured. A clump of plants with flowers of different colours is a lovely sight. The shape of a flower reminded someone of a traditional policeman's helmet worn in Britain, giving the plant one of its alternate names. The flower has five petals, one of which forms a hood over the flower. The flower's nectar is very attractive to bees.

A side view of a Himalayan balsam flower
A side view of a Himalayan balsam flower | Source

Himalayan balsam flowers produce a strong scent. The fragrance is most noticeable when a group of plants are growing close to each other and are all in flower.

Himalayan Balsam Fruits or Seed Pods

Another name for Himalayn balsam and for some of its relatives is Touch-Me-Not. The fruits or seed pods are long, thin and ribbed. If they're touched when they are ripe, the pods immediately spring open and shoot their seeds into the air. The ribs of the pod are instrumental in ejecting the seeds and remain as coils once the seeds are released. The seeds travel as far as twenty feet and remain viable for eighteen months to two years.

The first word in the scientific names of Touch-Me-Nots - Impatiens - is Latin for "impatient". The name is said to be derived from the plant's habit of releasing its seeds at the slightest touch. It's fun to touch a ripe pod and watch the mini-explosion. It might not be a good idea to deliberately release the seeds of invasive Himalayan balsam, however, although the pods will probably open from natural causes on their own.

Some areas have native Touch-Me-Nots. Their seed pods can be triggered without guilt. In British Columbia, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a native plant. It has orange flowers and a more delicate appearance than the sturdy policeman's helmet. The leaves of jewelweed glisten when wet, giving the plant its name.

Himalayan Balsam Releasing its Seeds

Estimates for the total number of seeds released by a Himalayan balsam plant in a season range from 800 to 2,500. Whatever the true number, that's a lot of seeds!

A lovely pale pink version of the Himalayan balsam flower
A lovely pale pink version of the Himalayan balsam flower | Source

Why can Himalayan Balsam be a Problem?

There are a variety of reasons why Himalayan balsam can be detrimental to its environment.

  • A single Himalayan balsam plant produces many seeds, allowing the plant to spread rapidly.
  • The plant often grows in wetlands besides watercourses. The seeds survive in the water and are carried to new areas of wet soil beside the watercourse.
  • Since a Himalayan balsam plant grows rapidly and is so tall, it can crowd out shorter plants.
  • Himalayan balsam is an annual plant. When a group of plants die in the fall, the ground is left bare and is vulnerable to erosion.
  • The fact that Himalayan balsam is so attractive to bees reduces the insects' visits to native plants.

Multi-coloured Himalayan balsam flowers beside Eagle Creek in Burnaby
Multi-coloured Himalayan balsam flowers beside Eagle Creek in Burnaby | Source

Controlling Himalayan Balsam

At the moment, although Himalayan balsam is noticeable in Burnaby Lake Regional Park, its growth doesn't seem to be out of control. I've been going to the park for many years, however, and have noticed that the plant is becoming more abundant. I suspect that many people are delighted to see the pretty flowers and smell their intense fragrance without realizing the problems that the plants can cause.

The best method of control for Himalayan balsam is said to be physical removal of the plant and roots. This may be time consuming, but it's the safest method. Pesticides work too, but they are not good to apply in a park setting where they may affect other plants. Pesticides are certainly not advisable next to a body of water, where Himalyan balsam often grows.

Some people grow Himalayan balsam plants in their gardens. This can be a serious problem. It doesn't do much good to remove the wild plants if the area is then reseeded by garden plants. It's better to choose other species of Impatiens for gardens.

If someone decides to remove Himalayan balsam plants by pulling them from the ground, they should investigate the best way to dispose of the plants in their community. Pulled plants can still release seeds.

Still Creek and Himalayan Balsam viewed from under the Kensington Overpass
Still Creek and Himalayan Balsam viewed from under the Kensington Overpass | Source

The Revitalization of Still Creek

Still Creek in Burnaby Lake Regional Park is a beautiful stream and attracts many plants and animals. Its health depends on what is happening in the rest of the creek, however. One of the reasons why the creek is so interesting for visitors such as myself to observe is the work that has been done upstream to protect the creek.

Many people are working to revitalize the stream. One of the leaders in the effort is Mark Angelo. He's a keen river conservationist who also publicizes the importance of river and stream health internationally. He's the founder of both BC Rivers Day and World Rivers Day. Before his retirement, Mark Angelo was the head of the Fish, Wildlife and Recreation program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Still Creek once contained industrial contaminants, sewage and garbage. As the video below shows, with the right care, streams in urban and industrial areas can be as healthy as those in park settings.

Mark Angelo Discusses the Return of Salmon to Still Creek

World Rivers Day is celebrated each year on the last Sunday of September. According to the event's website, more than sixty countries celebrate the day.

Still Creek viewed under the Kensington Overpass in Burnaby Lake Regional Park
Still Creek viewed under the Kensington Overpass in Burnaby Lake Regional Park | Source

The Value of Creeks and Streams

Creeks and streams are valuable environmental features and have much to offer both us and the environment. They provide water for wildlife and in some cases humans. They also support the growth of plants. In addition, they transport useful sediments and nutrients to new areas. Streams play an important role in the water cycle on Earth.

It's wonderful for people to discover that streams such as Still Creek can be interesting and educational places, even in cities. It could be argued that Himalayan balsam, although pretty, is not the best plant to appear near a stream due to its potentially invasive nature. There are many native plants that grow on stream banks, though. A creek or stream can be a very enjoyable place to visit.

© 2015 Linda Crampton

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Comments 52 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

Beautiful country, Linda. I sure hope it remains that way and the citizenry takes steps to always protect it.


AudreyHowitt profile image

AudreyHowitt 15 months ago from California

We have similar problems with some of the grasses here in California--they are non-native species and cause all kinds of problems--very informative hub!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I hope the area remains beautiful, too, Bill. I will be watching the situation closely. Thanks for commenting.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Audrey. Thanks for the visit. Introduced plants can certainly cause a lot of problems!


drbj profile image

drbj 15 months ago from south Florida

Thanks for the introduction to this interesting plant, Alicia. How amazing that salmon returned to Still Creek after 80 years or more.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

It is amazing, drbj. A lot of work was involved! Thanks for the comment.


thumbi7 profile image

thumbi7 15 months ago from India

Thanks for this beautiful hub

I have learned something new


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, thumbi7.


Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 15 months ago from High desert of Nevada.

Such a beautiful area to visit and take photos. I can imagine walking along the river and admiring the wild life. The Himalayan Balsam is a very interesting plant, and so lovely. It is a wonderful thing that the conservation efforts have brought back the long missing salmon.

Thanks for writing this informative hub, Linda.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Phyllis. I appreciate your visit and comment. The park is certainly a lovely place to visit. It's both picturesque and interesting.


Jackie Lynnley profile image

Jackie Lynnley 15 months ago from The Beautiful South

Very beautiful plant; don't think I have ever seen it but I guess it is like our Kudzu to get out of control but still look so beautiful. Hard to look at the bad side though, huh?

Up and shared.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, vote and share, Jackie. It is hard to remember that the plant can be invasive when looking at its lovely flowers!


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 15 months ago from southern USA

We have so many creeks and streams here in my state in southern USA. Wow, that is wonderful that Still Creek has been cleaned up from contaminates! The Himalayan balsam flower is certainly beautiful and I wish I could smell it ... I would have never known about the problems it causes if I had not read this article. You are always teaching us new things.

Up ++++ and away


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comments and all the votes, Faith. It is wonderful that Still Creek has been cleaned up. It's not in perfect condition yet, but it's getting there!


Jodah profile image

Jodah 15 months ago from Queensland Australia

A beautiful and informative hub with equally wonderful photos. Voted up.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the kind comment and the vote, Jodah. I appreciate your visit.


M L Morgan 15 months ago

A well researched and well constructed article. You describe such beauty and obviously have a great passion for nature :)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, M L Morgan. It's nice to meet you!


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 15 months ago from South Africa

Very interesting, useful and well-written hub about the Himalayan balsam aka Impatiens glandulifera. I love Impatiens and have some cultivars in my garden. Thanks, Alicia. I have nominated you as the Best Teacher :)


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the lovely comment, Martie. I appreciate the nomination a great deal, too!


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 15 months ago from England

Beautiful and really interesting hub Alicia, I learned something new about the Himalayan balsam, I had never heard of it before, wonderful!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much, Nell. I appreciate your visit and the kind comment.


annart profile image

annart 15 months ago from SW England

Beautiful place, informative article and superb photos, Alicia.

The flower looks very similar to what we used to call 'snap-dragons' but also 'policeman's helmets' but I'm not sure they really are the same. Snap-dragon was because of its movement when you squeezed the base of the flower, the top and bottom snapped together. Thanks for reminding me of that!

Great hub.

Ann


midget38 profile image

midget38 15 months ago from Singapore

It really is a beautiful flower!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Ann. Thank you very much for the visit and the lovely comment! I remember snapdragons from my childhood. I haven't seen one for a long time, though. Your comment has reminded me about them.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, midget38. I agree - it is a beautiful flower! Thank you for commenting.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 15 months ago from the short journey

Thanks for an interesting read. The fact that Still Creek has been revitalized makes this worth reading, but the Himalayan Balsam is a neat plant to learn about. Herbicides could be helpful in places that it truly invasive, but that does not seem necessary in this place. Thanks for including the videos--very much enjoyed seeing the seed pod in action.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the visit, RTalloni. I think the revitalization of Still Creek is impressive. I hope it stays healthy. I also hope that Himalayan balsam doesn't become a serious problem!


Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 15 months ago from Oklahoma

Just a beautiful ecosystem along the waterway.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Larry. Yes, it is beautiful. It's a lovely place to visit. Thanks for the comment.


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 15 months ago from San Diego California

We have a big problem with introduced here in the Southwest as well, Linda. One of these is the invasive salt cedar, which was brought in to control erosion but is now out of control. I am glad they are cleaning up the creek. Interesting facts, and great hub!


ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 15 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

I love that the Salmon are back. I have a lot of family in Canada and they love their Salmon. The plant is beautiful but I can see where it could cause problems. They had the same problem happen to the river here in Fl. Great Hub.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Mel. It's so sad that people thought they were helping the environment by introducing the salt cedar when they were actually hurting it! Thanks for the comment.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, ladyguitarpicker. Yes, Canadians do love salmon, at least where I live! Thank you very much for commenting and for sharing the information.


FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 15 months ago from USA

What a beautiful and educational hub, Linda. It's good to see areas that were once industrial sore spots return to thriving areas with the coaxing of caring citizens.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks, Flourish. It is good to see damaged areas revitalized. I hope the improvement continues.


bdegiulio profile image

bdegiulio 15 months ago from Massachusetts

How interesting Linda. Have never heard of the Himalayan Balsam. It's beautiful as is the Still Creek. You live in a beautiful area. Thanks for sharing it with us.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, Bill. Yes, I'm very happy to live where I do. There are many beautiful sights to see, even though I live in a city! Thank you for the comment.


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 15 months ago from Stillwater, OK

This is a wonderful piece, reflecting in the glow and bounty of nature. I hope to not offend, but regarding pesticide control, not only does it affect what you mentioned, it will also affect the bird and bee population. If you could include that fact, that could help us all in the quest of ecosystem survival, as well as that of the insects and birds. Thanks for all that you do.


Rachel L Alba profile image

Rachel L Alba 15 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

Hi Alicia, I just love reading about and seeing nature. It's just one of God's blessings to us. Even thought that flower might over take other plants, it's still a beautiful flower, even though the flower it's self is small. I also enjoyed the video of the salmon coming back to that creek. Thanks for sharing and all the work you did in this hub. I voted up, awesome and beautiful.

Blessings to you.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment, Deb. I'll add the additional information about pesticides when I edit the hub. Birds and bees need all the help that we can give them!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and the votes, Rachel. I appreciate your visit. Blessings to you as well!


BlossomSB profile image

BlossomSB 15 months ago from Victoria, Australia

An interesting article with delightful photos.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you, Blossom. I appreciate your visit and comment.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 15 months ago

What a beautiful place. I didn't know one flower could be so overpowering to others.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment, Dianna. It is a beautiful place. I love visiting it at any time of year.


DDE profile image

DDE 14 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

A wonder in most lives. I like the lovely photo presented here.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the visit and the comment about the photos, Devika.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 10 months ago from Ontario, Canada

This is very interesting. I go to the woods once in a while but very seldom do I recognize any of the beautiful flowers I see. Thank you for posting this.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 10 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, aesta1. Thanks for commenting. I always enjoy a walk in the woods. I love being surrounded by trees and flowers.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 8 months ago from Houston, Texas

What a lovely area! That is wonderful that the salmon have returned to spawn after a hiatus of 80 years. Thanks for teaching us about this pretty but invasive plant. Will be sharing!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 8 months ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thanks for the comment and the share, Peggy! I always appreciate your visits. It is wonderful that the fish have returned. It's great to see what determined people can accomplish!

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