- Policeman’s Helmet
- Poor Man’s Orchid
- Indian Balsam
- Ornamental Jewelweed
General: Himalayan Balsam is an exotic-looking annual.
Flowers: Can be a wide range of colours, including pink, purple, white or even reddish. The flowers resemble an old-fashioned policeman’s helmet. They usually have 5 petals and are bilaterally symmetrical, growing 2.5 – 4 cm long. Flowers grow together in racemes on long stems borne in the upper leaf axils.
Stems: Thick, upright, branched, hollow and can easily be broken. Stems can be purple to reddish. Himalayan Balsam can grow up to 3 m tall.
Leaves: Pointed tip and rounded bases that grow either opposite of each other or in whorls of 3. Leaves are 6 cm – 15 cm long, decreasing in size as they move up the stem.
Seeds: Grow in capsules that are 1.5 cm to 3.5 cm long, 1.5 cm wide, and contain up to 16 seeds. Once the seed pods split, they eject the seeds up to 6 m away!
Roots: Shallow, fibrous root system. Himalayan Balsam is straightforward to pull up.
Smallflower Touch-Me-Not (Impatiens parviflora), which has yellow-orange flowers, more rounded leaf blades, and is much smaller.
Orange Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is native to North America and has yellow to orange flowers. It also has more rounded leaf blades with fewer serrations and an alternate leaf arrangement.
Habitat and Origin
Himalayan Balsam originates from the Western Himalayas and was brought over to North America in the 1900’s as a garden ornamental.
Himalayan Balsam is extremely invasive in moist, shaded environments. It is found in wet sites along river edges, wetlands and ditch banks. Himalayan Balsam thrives in the nutrient-rich soils of disturbed riparian habitats and wet woodlands. It is tolerant of partial shade and a wide range of soil acidities.
Propagation and Vectors of Spread
Himalayan Balsam reproduces solely by seed.
Himalayan Balsam seed capsules explode at maturity and release up to 2,500 seeds per plant. The seeds can be transported by water flow; mowing the plant after seed set can also cause the seeds to spread. Himalayan Balsam is also sold and collected as an ornamental garden plant.
Economic and Ecological Impacts
- Forms dense monocultures and displaces native vegetation on stream banks.
- Due to its shallow root system and annual life cycle, it leaves soils barren and exposed in the winter time, increasing erosion.
- Clogs drainage ditches, damaging infrastructure and leading to costly repairs.
What Can I Do?
Himalayan Balsam is currently found throughout the Sea to Sky Corridor, so the best approach to controlling its spread is by STRATEGIC CONTROL in Squamish and ERADICATION in Whistler and Pemberton.
Learn to identify Himalayan Balsam: use the images presented in this profile page to learn how to identify Himalayan Balsam.
What to do if you spot it: You can report any Himalayan Balsam sightings by clicking here.
- Regularly monitor properties for weed infestations.
- Ensure soil and gravel are uncontaminated before transport.
- Check wildflower mixes to ensure that they do not contain Himalayan Balsam.
- Ensure that plants are disposed of in a garbage bag if found in floral arrangements to prevent seeds from spreading.
- Unload, park or store equipment or vehicles in infested areas; remove plant material from any equipment, vehicles or clothing used in such areas and wash equipment and vehicles at designated cleaning sites before leaving infested areas.
- Plant Himalayan Balsam in a garden, no matter how well-contained its enclosure may seem.
- Move soil that has been contaminated with Himalayan Balsam.
Hand-pulling Himalayan Balsam is a relatively easy and effective control method. When soils are moist, the shallow roots are more likely to be fully removed. However, pulling this weed from a stream bank or riparian area can increase erosion and even alter the watercourse.
Himalayan Balsam’s riparian habitat makes chemical control impossible.
No biocontrol agents are currently available for Himalayan Balsam in B.C., though various options are being explored through ongoing government research.
Alberta Invasive Species Council, Himalayan Balsam, https://abinvasives.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/FS-HimalayanBalsam.pdf
British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Policeman’s Helmet (Himalayan Balsam), http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/conserve/bcparks-ip-guide.pdf
British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, Policeman’s Helmet (Himalayan Balsam), https://prrd.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/ManagingInvasivePlants.pdf
Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia, Impatiens glandulifera, http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Impatiens%20glandulifera
Invasive Species Council of BC, Himalayan Balsam, https://bcinvasives.ca/invasives/himalayan-balsam/
Invasive Species Council of BC, Himalayan Balsam TIPS Factsheet, https://bcinvasives.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Himalayan-Balsam.pdf
Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver, Best Management Practices for Himalayan Balsam in the Metro Vancouver Region, http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/regional-planning/PlanningPublications/HimalayanBalsamBMP.pdf
Invasive Species Council of Metro Vancouver, Tackling Himalayan Balsam, http://www.metrovancouver.org/services/regional-planning/PlanningPublications/HimalayanBalsamFactSheet-December2020.pdf