IWA's Easy Guide to Himalayan Balsam

Created on 23/06/2014

Photo: Volunteers tackle Himalayan Balsam on the Caldon Canal

Take a look through this short blog to learn about Himalayan Balsam including how to identify the plant, the problems it can cause and what you could do to help.


Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), a plant native to the Himalayas, was first introduced to the UK as a garden plant in the mid-nineteenth century before escaping and growing in the wild in around 1855. Himalayan Balsam prefers damp locations making waterway corridors an ideal habitat for the plant, which is now common and widespread across the UK.

Identifying Himalayan Balsam

Himalayan BalsamPhoto: Himalayan Balsam

Himalayan Balsam can grow up to 3 metres in height; has hollow stems that turn from green to a pinkish-red in spring; long (up to 15cm), slender, green leaves and slipper shaped flowers from June-October that range from almost white to a pinkish-purple.

See more photos in the Himalayan Balsam gallery or take a look at IWA's Himalayan Balsam Anatomy infographic to help you identify the plant.

Why is Himalayan Balsam a problem?

Himalayan Balsam along the banks of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Falling SandsPhoto: Himalayan Balsam covers banks of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal

Himalayan Balsam often grows in dense patches through the spring and summer and crowds out native plants. The dominance of one species can dramatically change the environment of any area and does not encourage biodiversity. Himalayan Balsam also dies back during the winter months and with a lack of native plants this can be a problem on waterway banks as they are left bare and susceptible to erosion. Bank erosion causes navigation problems for boaters, increases the need for dredging and can damage waterway habitats such as fish spawning beds.

Read more about how Himalayan Balsam can impact wildlife, boaters and anglers.

How to control Himalayan Balsam

Himalayan Balsam removed at Falling Sands on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire CanalPhoto: Himalayan Balsam removed at Falling Sands on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal

The preferred method of control of Himalayan Balsam is cutting the plant down below the lowest node or pulling it up by hand. The plant comes up easily and is completely non-toxic making this a safe and reliable method. If seed pods are present these should be removed and bagged before attempts are made to remove the plant. Sites have to be visited annually until the plant is eradicated as seeds can remain dormant in the soil for up to three years.

What can you do?

Volunteers remove Himalayan Balsam from the banks of the Caldon CanalPhoto: Volunteers remove Himalayan Balsam from the banks of the Caldon Canal

Record the location of the plant with Alison Smedley, IWA's Branch Campaign Team, and on a national database via PlantTracker or the Non-native Species Secretariat website.

You may also want to get actively involved with the campaign so take a look at the IWA Himalayan Balsam work parties taking place this summer. None near you? Why not stop off at a work party further afield whilst out boating or on holiday to help volunteers tackle their local problem or think about organising your own work party with IWA.

Tags: IWA Campaigns