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Balsam Bashing

posted 18 Jun 2011, 02:42 by Haley Whittall   [ updated 18 Jun 2011, 03:14 ]

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Volunteers from Crowborough Conservation turned up at ‘The Ghyll’ on Saturday 11 June to spend a few hours pulling up Himalyan Balsam. This invasive, non-native plant spreads rapidly through damp areas and suppresses native species.

Volunteers were delighted to uncover a Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) that was being smothered by the balsam. Hopefully the clearance will help other orchids and plants to thrive.
A volunteer with the Common Spotted Orchid
Another session is planned soon, so watch this space….

Himalayan (indian) Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) was first introduced from the western Himalayas to the UK as an ornamental plant by John Forbes Royle in 1839.  It has escaped from gardens and has now colonised river banks, streams and other areas of damp ground all over Britain.  It is thought to be the tallest annual plant in Britain, growing up to 3 m high.  It grows rapidly, smothering native British plants as it goes.

Himalayan Balsam tolerates low light levels and also shades out other vegetation, so gradually impoverishing habitats by killing off other plants.  It produces clusters of purplish pink helmet-shaped flowers between June and October giving rise to the alternative common name ‘Policeman's Helmet’.

The flowers are followed by seed pods that open explosively when ripe.  Each plant can produce up to 800 seeds.  These are dispersed widely as the ripe seedpods shoot their seeds up to 7 m (22 ft) away.

It is a major problem where it occurs by riverbanks as when it dies back in the autumn it leaves the river banks bare of vegetation, and liable to erosion.
Volunteers in action removing the Himalayan Balsam
Like other non-native highly invasive plants, Himalyan Balsam is listed on Schedule 9 of the ‘Wildlife and Countryside Act’.  Dumping unwanted plants, for example in a local stream or woodland, is an offence.