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Himalayan Balsam

Impatiens glandulifera

  • Name also: Indian Balsam, Policeman’s Helmet, Bobby Tops, Copper Tops, Gnome’s Hatstand, Ornamental Jewelweed, Poor Man’s Orchid
  • Family: Balsam Family – Balsaminaceae
  • Growing form: Annual herb.
  • Height: 50–150 cm (20–60 in.). Stem almost unbranched, hollow, juicy, often reddish.
  • Flower: Irregular (zygomorphic), 2.5–4 cm (1–1.6 in.) long. Petals 5, dark or light red or white, 4 lowermost fused in pairs. Sepals 3, lowermost pouch-like, same colour as petals, narrow, downwardly curved spur. Stamens 5, anthers fused. Gynoecium composed of 5 fused carpels. Inflorescence in axils, erect, a 5–12-flowered raceme.
  • Leaves: Lowermost paired, opposite, upper leaves usually in whorls of 3. Leaves stalked, with large secreting glands at base. Blade elliptic–ovate, thick, fragile, with densely toothed margin (30–45 teeth on each side).
  • Fruit: 5-parted capsule, which bursts open when ready, scattering the seeds into the air.
  • Habitat: Yards, gardens, banks, forest margins, meadows, ditches and wasteland. Also an ornamental.
  • Flowering time: June–September(–October).
  • Harmfulness: Harmful invasive species.

The tropical Balsam family is represented in Finland and across Europe by just one original species, touch-me-not balsam (I. noli-tangere). Himalayan balsam, which grows at an altitude of between two and three thousand metres on the slopes of the Himalayas, has however also put down roots in Finland. Many people are of the opinion that it is getting rather too comfortable in Finland as it has quickly taken over inhabited areas in the south of the country and there are increasing reports about it moving in among wild plants.

Himalayan balsam began life in Finland as a garden ornamental. It is impressive and easy to care for, which made it very popular. It was no respecter of garden fences however, and began to spread ruthlessly. The species’ club-like capsule bursts open at the slightest disturbance and spreads the ripe seeds quite far from the mother-plant. The earliest information about escapees was recorded in the early 1970s, and it started to spread powerfully during the 90s, so it still has a bit of a novelty value. Himalayan balsam is regarded as a nuisance in central Europe, where it grows in broad, dense stands along river banks. The coming years will show if the plant will become so problematic in Finland too. The annual herb’s sensitivity to frost at the beginning of the summer and in the autumn clips its wings a little in Finland, at least towards the north of the country.

invasive alien species

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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