About Himalayan Balsam
Beautiful flowers that are loved by the bees, a heady scent, lush foliage; what’s not to like about Himalayan balsam? Well, unfortunately this amazing plant causes major problems to our natural environment. Himalayan balsam is listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it an offence to plant this species or introduce it into the wild. Native to the Himalayas in India and Pakistan where it can be found up to elevations of 2,500 metres, it is now widespread throughout Europe, including the United Kingdom, as well as in parts of North America. Some studies suggest that Himalayan balsam has spread at the rate of 645 km²per year in the UK.
Why worry about Himalayan balsam?
Himalayan balsam often produces more nectar than native species, making its flowers more attractive to pollinating insects than those of other native plants living in close proximity. Stands of Himalayan balsam grow and spread rapidly and out-compete our natural flora for space and light, leading to a reduction in the local biodiversity. In fact, Himalayan balsam is the tallest annual growing in Britain. The rapid colonisation of this species can be extremely problematic around waterways; because Himalayan balsam dies back completely for the winter, it can increase the rate of erosion of river banks and obstruct water flow, subsequently increasing the risk of flooding. There is then both a social and legal responsibility to deal with giant hogweed infestations.
Himalayan balsam facts
- Reproduces by seed so spread is managed by controlling seed production/bank.
- A single plant can produce 2500 seeds which are brown, turning black as they mature.
- Typical locations: along waterways, on derelict land, along verges and in parks.
- Himalayan balsam is the tallest annual plant in Europe; each stem can be 2.5 metres tall.
- The explosion of the Himalayan balsam’s fruit capsule can fire seeds up to seven metres.
- Dependent on local climate, Himalayan balsam flowers between July and October.
- Large stands of Himalayan balsam may often be smelt before they are seen; the plant gives off a heady (some say sickly) sweet smell which can
- be very strong if the stand is large.
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