Himalayan Balsam

In the months of May to July in the UK, you may come across teams of volunteers working on Himalayan Balsam control. Particularly near waterways, but also other places.

If you are not sure what Himalayan Balsam is, you can find more information and links below. If you stop and ask, they will tell you about the activity and give you insights into the situation in your local area.

Himalayan Balsam is a non-native, invasive species. It can grow to 2 meters, has distinctive large green leaves, with red tinges. The flower is usually purple, and very striking. It was introduced by Victorian gardeners, and has long since escaped to devastate the countryside.

The problems with balsam are many fold:

  • It grows in dense clumps which shade out all other native plants in the area. It’s an annual plant which disappears completely after the summer leaving bare soil.
  • Along rivers this means loss of riverbank structure. Native perennial plants have deep roots which bind the bank together. When the high water levels come in winter, the bare banks are eroded further causing more severe flooding in the area.
  • The flower produces sweet, rich nectar which attracts many bees and other pollinators who gorge on the food. This causes them to produce copious seed again next year. Also, the pollinators are then visiting fewer native plants in the area, making them less likely to produce seed. The combined effect can make balsam a dominant species along big tracts.
  • The plant can “spit” it’s seed up to six meters away (often to the other side of the bank). If left unchecked, it can spread very quickly.
  • The seeds are transported downstream to areas that do no have balsam yet, causing it to sprout all along the catchment.

In short, it’s extremely pernicious. Don’t be fooled by the pretty flowers that this plant is good for the environment.

For all the chaos it causes though, it does yield extremely easily. Their roots are shallow and can be pulled with little effort. If you pull it, the stalk looks a bit like celery and can be snapped with a satisfying crunch.

It can then be laid to one side and it will disappear very quickly. The plants are mostly made of water and will literally evaporate in a few days in hot sun after pulling.

This is what the volunteer groups you see are doing. Usually they are acting in a strategic manner, starting at the top of the catchment and working their way down year after year.

If you’re not sure what they are, ask someone to show you. Once you get your eye in, your see them everywhere. So pull them yourself when you are out and about.

You’ll be making the world a slightly better place.

Read more on this topic . . .