Pest plant should be rooted out
A BIG debate has been buzzing around naturalists over the past few years about the merits of a plant that is taking over our countryside.
Himalayan balsam has more foes than friends as it marches up the country and towers above most other woodland plants.
It was introduced as a garden plant in 1839 but escaped into the countryside. Each plant can produce more than 2,000 seeds and send them over a wide distance when the seed pod explodes.
Himalayan balsam follows rivers and streams, or anywhere where flowing water can spread its seeds. I was in Boothstown in Salford a couple of weeks ago and the huge balsam plants were following the route of the local brook.
In my village in Lancashire it has spread out to cover edges of fields and wooded meadows. This has halted the growth of many native plants, restricting the diversity of plantlife and associated wildlife.
Big problems occur on riverbanks. Because the balsam roots are only shallow this affects the soil making it weaker and more likely to collapse into the river or stream. This has the knock-on effect of weakening areas that once provided ideal habitat for dippers.
There is plenty of evidence of people’s disdain for Himalayan balsam as you wander through the countryside. Walkers will grab hold of one of two plants and throw them on the floor, but this is doing more harm than good. The bulbous lumps on the stems are as proficient as the seeds and will just root into the ground and grow.
In the pro-Himalayan balsam camp are beekeepers who feel that their buzzy chums would be lost without the pink flowers.
Of course bee numbers have plummeted over the past 100 years, but there appears to have been a slight resurgence recently. Many beekeepers put this down to the balsam.
I think that the bee revival, if one has actually happened, is probably down to wildflower meadows and an increase in native plants. Without the balsam, native plants would be thriving in woodland now.
If landowners could actually control Himalayan balsam, there may be a happy medium keeping the Native Plant Brigade and Friends of the Bees singing from the same hymn sheet.
At the moment this isn’t the case and Himalayan balsam will continue to be seen as a pest, giving our volunteers hours of fun as they tug it out of the ground and hang it in trees to die. This is a satisfying hobby and available to everyone.
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●● Himalayan balsam’s pink flowers attract lots of bees