Himalayan Balsam

Impatiens glandulifera

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) is an exotic-looking annual that has pink, helmet-shaped flowers (also known as "policeman’s helmet”), rapid growth, and an entertaining mode of explosive seed dispersal. Unfortunately, this species is extremely invasive in moist, shaded environments, and is now swiftly spreading through the watercourses of the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

Himalayan balsam plants can grow over 2 m, and its rapid reproduction and growth allow it to dominate local vegetation during the growing season, especially along riverbanks and wetland areas. Additionally, after dying back in the fall, bare riverbanks are exposed, increasing erosion during higher winter flows.

Himalayan balsam is easily identifiable with its whorled leaves (usually in threes). Plants have a thick, much branched, purple to reddish tinged stems. Leaves are stalked, oblong to egg-shaped and have a serrated edge. Plants have a poor root structure so it is relatively easy to remove. 

Though not commonly available for sale, people who are unaware of its destructive potential contribute to its spread by collecting and spreading seed. A few native and ornamental alternatives to plant instead of himalayan balsam include: Wild Bleeding Heart; Cardinal Flower; Beard-tongue; Red Columbine; and Pink Monkey Flower. Read more about these alternatives in the Grow Me Instead booklet for BC.