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Himalayan balsam

Himalayan balsam is one of the 'big three' invasive weed species covered by UK wildlife legislation.  That is to say it is indeed a big plant (typically 2-3m tall), is widespread particularly alongside rivers and canals and is locally abundant (almost always, given time, displacing native vegetation). 

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 What does Himalayan balsam look like?

Most members of the public will be familiar with this plant because anytime from July onwards it produces fairly conspicuous and colourful flowers, which look a bit like snapdragon/antirrhinum flowers - but bigger!.  For this reason it is sometimes seen as a beneficial plant in certain settings because it provides a source of nectar for insects often quite late in the summer when other food sources become scarce (similar to buddleia).

To see what it looks like, check out the pictures below...

Himalayan balsam 1 - PCA

Himalayan balsam 2 - PCA

Himalayan balsam 3 - PCA

The problems Himalayan balsam causes

The overall environmental impact of Himalayan balsam is broadly negative.  Whilst not seen as a particular problem in urban spaces, Himalayan balsam causes a problem for native species. 

Quite apart from the tendency to shade out native plants, the roots of Himalayan balsam are shallow so they provide little or no soil stability during flood events.  Added to this, in the autumn the fallen stems form a matt of vegetation on e.g. river banks.  When river levels rise, this is likely to be swept-up and taken down-river blocking drainage channels, weirs etc.

Legislation regarding Himalayan balsam

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Wildlife and Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, it is an offence to introduce Himalayan balsam into the wild. Although you are not committing an offence by having Himalayan balsam on your land you should take care to prevent it spreading to any areas where it is not already established, especially sensitive or 'wild' habitats. Landowners could take legal action against you.

Removal & treatment of Himalayan balsam

If you have or find Himalayan balsam on your land/property, it should be possible to manage it, i.e. contain the plant and stop it spreading.  Adult plants can be ‘pulled’ fairly easily and if this is done before they flower, no new seed heads will be formed that year.  

However, if the plant has been present for a while, Himalayan balsam seeds will be present in the soil and these will germinate for a few more years.  As with most invasive weed control tasks, full ‘eradication’ can take many years and a systematic approach through both chemical sprays and excavation.

Thinking you would like to talk to someone 

If you are not sure what steps to take or need help with identification, most specialist PCA invasive weed members will certainly be happy to offer advice and guidance over the phone, and if you have pictures, will be happy to look and confirm if you have an issue with Himalayan balsam.

To find a registered PCA specialist near you, simply use the search tool below.

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