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A Himalayan Explosion-introducing the Himalayan Balsam Impatiens Glandufolia

Updated on August 2, 2015

Himalayan Balsam

Himalayan  balsam can attain an impressive height. Photograph by D.A.L.
Himalayan balsam can attain an impressive height. Photograph by D.A.L.

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman

This tall invasive species was introduced to these shores in 1839 as an ornamental species for large gardens. It was regarded as being worthy of being on display at that time at Kew Gardens.As early as 1855 it was classed as being naturalised in southern counties of England. From that point until the present day it has been a subject of debate and has divided opinion among conservationists and wildlife organisations. 

Impatiens Glandulifera

It would be prudent at this point to describe the species in some detail for the benefit of readers' not familiar with the species. Himalayan balsam,Impatiens glandulifera produces red tinged succulent stems that may attain the height of 2m tall. The foliage is lance shaped, arranged in whorls of 3-5 leaves. They end in a point and are serrated along their margins.

Foliage

The foliage is arranged in whorls around the stem. Note the red tinge on the stem. Photograph by D.A.L.
The foliage is arranged in whorls around the stem. Note the red tinge on the stem. Photograph by D.A.L.
Under side of the leaf is of a lighter colour.Photograph by D.A.L.
Under side of the leaf is of a lighter colour.Photograph by D.A.L.

The flowers are produced in loose clusters. They are composed of 2-lipped pendulous flowers. The lower lip is formed of two petals while the upper petal forms a helmet-like hood. {This gives rise to its country title of Policeman's helmet}. Individual flowers are 2.5-4cm long.{One and a quarter -two inches}.

The fruits are a spindle shaped capsule each containing 4-16 seeds.

Flower

The flowers are large and impressive. Photograph by D.A.L.
The flowers are large and impressive. Photograph by D.A.L.
Young seed capsules forming.Photograph by D.A.L.
Young seed capsules forming.Photograph by D.A.L.

The Debate

Arguments are rife about the virtues or otherwise of this species. The main argument from many conservationists is the plants invasive ha bit. They are fast growing plants which will tolerate shade {hence will invade woodland}. They prefer moist soil, thus, often get well established along river banks and tenant the banks of streams, however, they will grow on almost any type of soil and therefore not restricted to such situations.

Because they form dense stands thy effectively block out many smaller, slower growing native species , studies have shown this may be as much as 25% in many locations. Beneath their tall numerous stems species diversity is minimal, and, the root system of Himalayan balsam is shallow, thus when the herbage dies down in winter the ground is left bare. to compound this the soil is not bound together as it would be if native plants had become established. This will inevitably lead to corrosion occurring, especially on steep river banks and sloping banks of streams and brooks.

Top, Flower. Middle Black medick.Bottom Black medick

Bees are attracted to the plant because they are a rich source of nectar. Photograph by D.A.L.
Bees are attracted to the plant because they are a rich source of nectar. Photograph by D.A.L.
Black medick. Photograph by D.A.L.
Black medick. Photograph by D.A.L.
Yellow pimpernel, Native species such as black medick and yellow pimpernel are at risk where balsam grows. .
Yellow pimpernel, Native species such as black medick and yellow pimpernel are at risk where balsam grows. .

Another issue that concerns conservationists  is that the Himalayan balsam is a prolific nectar producer that attracts bumble bees away from native species hence pollination of the latter is diminished, while those of the former increases thanks to the work of these industrious insects. Again this can lead to less diversity of plant species occurring in any particular area or locality.

Counter arguments contest that Himalayan balsam is replacing many of the perennial, troublesome species such as nettle, bramble and dock along with the other notorious alien Japanese knotweed which are much more difficult to control. { see connected hubs ALIENS HAVE LANDED and JAPANESE KNOTWEED -FOOD FOR THOUGHT}.

Japanese Knotweed

Japanese knotweed is much more difficult to eradicate. Photograph by D.A.L.
Japanese knotweed is much more difficult to eradicate. Photograph by D.A.L.

Controlling Himalayan Balsam

To control the spread of this species one need to know its basic biology. as previously stated the species can gain a strong foothold in a diverse range of habitat including gardens. This annual plant produces seedlings that in the main germinate together in vast numbers the following spring. Once the seedlings have become established they grow at a rapid rate.


Himalayan balsam is a quick grower

Himalayan balsam forms covers large areas.Photograph by D.A.L.
Himalayan balsam forms covers large areas.Photograph by D.A.L.
Growth occurs quickly from this stage to the one photographed above. Photograph by D.A.L.
Growth occurs quickly from this stage to the one photographed above. Photograph by D.A.L.
These seed capsules are almost ready to "explode" catapulting their seeds far and wide. Photograph by D.A.L.
These seed capsules are almost ready to "explode" catapulting their seeds far and wide. Photograph by D.A.L.

The flowers are succeeded by seed capsules. When the seeds have ripened the pod "explodes" to catapult the seeds up to 7m away from the parent plant. If one is inclined to do so , one only needs to touch a ripe seed capsule to witness this phenomena, just touching the capsule will cause it to occur.

Each plant is capable of producing up to 800 seeds per season. These will germinate readily the following spring. Stand of the Himalayan balsam may contain thousands of plants, so one can appreciate the potential of this invasive species. Armed with this knowledge it is a reasonable assumption that the best way to stop its spread is to cull the plants before ripe seeds can occur.

Many wildlife and conservation groups including our own West Lancashire Ranger service organise balsam pulling days. Volunteers spend the day pulling up the shallow rooted plants from the ground before the flowers have the chance to produce seeds. However, this is very labour intensive and needs to be meticulously carried out, for one over looked plant will produce enough seed to recolonise the following year.

Studies have revealed that the seeds are only viable for two years, thus the cull has to be carried out throughout this period of time. It is also recommended that the area is monitored for at least five years.

Where stands are extensive herbicide is often the only viable answer to ridding an area of this plant. However, as many stands of this nature occur by water courses herbicide is often not an option. That leaves culling by means of strimmers which can clear large areas with few people needed to complete the task.

However, despite various methods of control being exercised the plant is on a wide scale increase here in West Lancashire where water courses, woodland and ungrazed pastures have all seen colonies become established, and when whether we love them or hate them , there is one irrefutable fact the Himalayan balsam is here to stay.

Established plants

The plant has got established along this arable hedgerow. Photograph by D.A.L.
The plant has got established along this arable hedgerow. Photograph by D.A.L.
Four years ago this was grassland that had several native species occurring there. Now it is over run by Himalayan balsam. Photograph by D.A.L.
Four years ago this was grassland that had several native species occurring there. Now it is over run by Himalayan balsam. Photograph by D.A.L.
Photograph by D.A.L.
Photograph by D.A.L.

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    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Nettlemere Thank you. Your visited and thoughts are very much appreciated. Best wishes Dal.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      One of my least favourite plants of all time - I loathe the smell of the foliage especially as it begins to die down. A very good article though and interested to read that the seeds are only viable for two years.

    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Peggy W thank you , always nice to see you here. It is a pretty plant as you say, it is just a pity it is so invasive. Thank again for your kind comments. Best wishes to you.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Too bad that the Himalayan Balsam is so invasive. It surely is a pretty plant. Thanks for this informative hub and, as always, your great photos. Rated useful and up.

    • Georgina_writes profile image

      Georgina_writes 6 years ago from Dartmoor

      Really enjoyed your hub. Here on Dartmoor we've not much balsam, which is good, but there is a stand of Japanese knotweed locally on some farm land that I'm keeping my eye on. When you go down to Cornwall now, the stuff is everywhere. rating up and following.

    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi B, your faint footsteps are welcome to tiptoe around my hubs whenever you wish. Thank for visiting. L. Best wishes to you.

    • Joy56 profile image

      Joy56 6 years ago

      WOW .... so informative, i am reading through your other hubs all about medicinal, qualities of plants in your part of the world. If i do not always comment, you may see my faint footsteps around your hubs,

    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Darski thank you so much for reading and for leaving your usual beautiful comments. Hope you and Sherry have a awesome two weeks together, love to you both.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Hello DLH how I have missed you so...I enjoyed reading this awesome and beautiful hub...your photos, as always, help to tell you story...I plan on going home around the 17th and my daughter is coming back with me for two weeks, I rate you hub high up. Love you darski

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