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The Himalayan Balsam was introduced to Kew Gardens by Dr Royle from Kashmir in 1839. It  is easy to grow and establish in the UK. The flowers are pretty but it does have a pungent  odour which is probably one of the reasons it was discarded. 

 

Roger Philips called it Policeman’s Helmet or Indian Balsam in ‘Wild Flowers of Britain’ (1977).  He described it as ‘An introduced annual, naturalised on waste places and river banks. Fairly common in  parts of England and Wales, elsewhere rare.’

 

I first came across it around 1988 growing along the bank of the Ouse in York. Each plant can  produce 800 seeds. I collected seeds as numerous plant collectors had done in the past to  take home and plant in my garden. People often compared the flowers to orchids. I was  happy to share the seeds not knowing that the beauty was actually becoming a beast.  

 

In 2017 it was put on the list of invasive non-native plant species of special concern on  gov.uk and making it illegal to collect and distribute the seeds. It provides food for bees but  it takes over river banks, driving out native flora, leading to erosion. 

 

In 2019 I found it growing along the River Alt in Maghull. I had not seen it there before. It is  happy to grow up through the brambles and other native flora, taking their place in the  ecosystem. The Beauty has become a Beast!

 

1839:

Dr Royle introduces Impatiens Grandulifea to Kew Gardens. It is more  commonly known as the Himalayan Balsam or Policeman’s Helmet or  Indian Balsam.  

It was distributed as an ornamental annual garden flower.

1977:

Roger Philips publishes ‘Wild Flowers of Britain’ in which he describes it  as ‘An introduced annual, naturalised on waste places and river banks.  Fairly common in parts of England and Wales, elsewhere rare.’

1988:

I use Roger Philips’ book to identify a pretty flower I came across it for  the first time growing on the banks of the Ouse in York as Policeman’s  Helmet or Indian Balsam. I collect seeds as numerous plant collectors in  the past had done to plant in my garden. I am happy to share the seeds  with others who admire the flowers. Many compare them to orchids – but shame about the smell.

2017:

Himalayan Balsam is put on the gov.uk list of non-native plant species of  special concern. It is illegal to collect and distribute the seeds.

2019:

I spot it growing along the River Alt in Maghull. I had not seen it there  before. There are numerous campaigns throughout the country to  eradicate it. As it is an annual it is relatively easy to control as long as  the plants are pulled up before they set seed. Each plant can produce  800 seeds that can live up to three years in the ground. 

The Beauty has become a Beast.

 

By Evelynne Rogers

 

 

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