It is illegal to plant Himalayan balsam in the UK, and for good reason. This invasive non-native weed has had a devastating effect on the British countryside since it was introduced in 1939 as a garden plant.
Himalayan balsam, also known as Impatiens gomphophylla, is an invasive species native to the Himalayas. It has spread rapidly in the UK and other parts of Europe, out-competing native plants and impacting local wildlife. It is now classed as a priority species under the UK Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Controlling its spread is therefore critical for preserving biodiversity in these areas.
What is Himalayan balsam and why is it controversial?
Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) is native to the Himalayas and is usually found growing along moving water courses such as canals and riverbanks.
The weed grows vigorously and spreads quickly, out-competing native plants for resources such as light, nutrients and water.
Its flowers are attractive to bees, which also aids its spread by helping it produce an abundance of seedpods capable of dispersing up to 800 seeds per plant – some of which can travel up to 4m from the parent plant thanks to being carried by moving water.
Himalayan Balsam and the law
The Climate Change Act 2008 made it an offence in England and Wales for anyone to knowingly cause or permit any non-native species into ‘an area where it is not normally found’ – this includes planting Himalayan balsam in areas where it’s not already present.
The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it an offence throughout Britain ‘to plant or otherwise cause [invasive non-native] species to grow’ without permission from a relevant authority.
In Scotland, landowners are required under Section 14 of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 to take necessary steps to prevent damage caused by invasive non-native species, including Himalayan balsam.
How does Himalayan Balsam affect the environment and what are the risks involved in planting it?
Himalayan Balsam is an invasive plant species that has been spreading rapidly throughout parts of Europe and North America. It is a fast-growing, prolific seed producer which can outcompete native plants for resources such as light, water and nutrients, leading to its dominance in many ecosystems.
The presence of Himalayan Balsam also poses serious risks to the environment due to its ability to alter soil chemistry and spread diseases from one area to another.
In addition, it can also cause flooding by blocking waterways with dense stands of vegetation. Therefore, planting this species should be avoided wherever possible in order to protect local ecosystems from harm.
Is it illegal to cultivate Himalayan balsam?
In England and Wales, Himalayan balsam is listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. It is thus illegal to plant or otherwise cause it to grow in the wild. It is not illegal to plant Himalayan balsam in gardens, but it must not be let to escape into the wild. However, because it spreads so quickly, it is nearly impossible to keep it from spreading beyond your garden. As a result, we do not suggest Himalayan balsam as a garden plant.
It is also important to be aware that even if you don’t intend on planting Himalayan balsam yourself, hundreds of seedlings can appear in your garden without warning if you live near a riverbank or canal where they are particularly prolific – these should be removed promptly before they start spreading further.
What can you do if you have Himalayan balsam in your garden?
Himalayan Balsam, native to the Himalayas and an increasingly common sight in many parts of Europe and North America, is an invasive plant species that can cause serious harm to local ecosystems. It spreads rapidly due to its prolific seed production and outcompetes native plants for resources such as light, water and nutrients.
In addition, it can also alter soil chemistry, spread diseases from one area to another, and even cause flooding by blocking waterways with dense stands of vegetation.
Therefore it is important not to plant this species wherever possible in order to protect the environment from damage.
However, if you already have Himalayan Balsam growing in your garden there are some steps you can take which may help reduce its impact on the surrounding ecosystem.
Steps to help reduce the impact on the surrounding ecosystem
To reduce the impact of Himalayan Balsam on the surrounding ecosystem in your garden, you should take the following steps:
- Pull or dig up the plant manually. This is most effective when done before the plant has gone to seed.
- Cut down the plant and apply a systemic herbicide to the cut stem. This will prevent re-growth from the root system.
- Remove seed heads from the plant to prevent it from spreading further.
- Plant native species in the affected area to outcompete the Himalayan Balsam.
- Maintain a good overall garden hygiene by removing dead plant material regularly.
It is important to note that it is always best to consult with a professional before using any chemical herbicides and that some methods may not be allowed in certain areas. It is also important to be mindful of the surrounding ecosystem and the potential impact of any control method.
Himalayan balsam removal
Himalayan balsam is a shallow-rooted annual that is reasonably easy to control; nevertheless, it must not be allowed to set seed. Simply remove plants before they set seed, and check back every few weeks to verify no new plants have germinated. Larger areas can be trimmed on a regular basis, as long as it is done before any plants have set seed.
One option is to simply keep the plant contained and well managed, for instance by cutting back new growth regularly throughout the season. This will prevent it from spreading its seeds and help ensure that native plants are not deprived of resources.
You could also try to remove as many of the seed pods as possible before they open to reduce further spread. If the plant is in a particularly sensitive area then the most effective method of control may be to selectively remove it by hand or with digging tools. This will enable native plants to regrow and start restoring the local ecosystem.
Finally, if you are unable to manage or eradicate the Himalayan Balsam yourself, speak to your local authorities or conservation organizations who may be able to help. With their expertise and guidance, it is possible to take the necessary steps towards restoring balance in your garden.
How can we prevent this plant from spreading further and taking over our ecosystems?
In order to prevent the spread of Himalayan Balsam and its associated damage to our ecosystems, it is important to take steps such as removing existing plants before they can set seed, encouraging native species that compete with it for resources, and controlling water levels in areas where it grows.
Removing existing plants should be done carefully as any small pieces left behind may still be capable of setting seed. In addition, preventing new infestations by avoiding planting this species or buying products which contain seeds should also be considered.
Finally, educating people about the dangers of this plant is essential so that everyone knows how to identify and control its presence in their local area. With these measures, we may yet succeed in protecting our ecosystems from further invasion by Himalayan Balsam.
How long does eradication take?
The length of time it takes to eradicate Himalayan Balsam with a well-thought-out treatment plan can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the size and density of the infestation, the method of control being used, and the environmental conditions.
Himalayan balsam can typically be totally eradicated in just over three years with frequent checking and removal of new seedlings.
Manual control methods, such as pulling or digging up the plants, can be effective in small infestations but can be labour-intensive and time-consuming. It’s important to pull up the plant before it has gone to seed as it can produce thousands of seeds per plant, which can lead to new infestations.
Chemical control methods, such as using herbicides, can also be effective but may require multiple treatments over a period of time to achieve complete eradication. These methods must be used with caution to not harm the surrounding environment or ecosystem.
Overall, the eradication of Himalayan Balsam can take several years of consistent treatment and monitoring. It’s important to have a long-term plan in place and to continue monitoring the area for regrowth and re-infestation. It is also important to plant native species in the affected area to outcompete the Himalayan Balsam.
Once you have taken action against Himalayan balsam, don’t forget to monitor the situation regularly. If you spot any further growths or signs of its spread, act quickly to contain or remove it to ensure that other native plants have a chance to recover.
With some patience and perseverance, it is possible to keep your garden free of this stubborn invader while safeguarding the environment around you.