Himalayan balsam is an annual herb, native to the western Himalayas. In the early 1800s it was introduced to many parts of Europe, New Zealand and North America as a garden ornamental. Himalayan Balsam has an orchid shaped flower resembling a British policeman’s helmet, which gave rise to its other common name of “Policeman’s helmet”.
Himalayan balsam can completely cover an area and crowd out native vegetation. Mature seed capsules explode when touched and can eject seeds as much as 5 metres from the parent plant, giving it the alternate common name of “Touch-Me-Not plant”. It is mostly found in riparian areas, especially river edges and wetlands.
Since its introduction to parts of North America, Europe and New Zealand, himalayan balsam has been successful in escaping cultivation and invading natural areas. In Canada, it has been reported in eight provinces including British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. It is also naturalized in the United States.
Impacts of Himalayan Balsam
- Creates dense stands that prevent native plants from establishing and reduce biodiversity and ecological value of land.
- Prolific nectar producer, drawing pollinators away from surrounding native species.
- Produces about 800 seeds per plant, which are released from capsules once they are disturbed or dry out.
- An annual species that can aggressively replace native perennial plants along river banks, leading to soil erosion.
How to Identify Himalayan Balsam
- Stems are hollow and smooth with purple to reddish colour. Able to grow 1 to 3 metres tall.
- Leaves are 6-15 centimetres long and are widest in the middle with sharply toothed edges.
- Flowers have 5 pink, white or purple petals, with 5-10 flowers on each stem.
- Seeds are produced in capsules 1.5-3.5 centimetres long with up to 16 seeds inside. Mature seed capsules explode when touched, launching seeds in all directions up to 5 metres away.
- Looks similar to Ontario’s native Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), which is a related species with yellow-orange flowers.
What You Can Do
- Learn how to properly identify Himalayan balsam and how to prevent accidentally spreading this invasive species.
- Avoid using invasive plants in gardens and landscaping.
- Buy native or non-invasive plants from reputable garden suppliers. See Grow Me Instead: Beautiful Non-Invasive Plants for Your Garden.
- Learn how to effectively manage himalayan balsam on your property. Do not dispose of invasive plants in the compost pile – discard them in the regular garbage.
- When hiking, reduce the spread of invasive plants and seeds by staying on trails and keeping pets on a leash.
- If you find himalayan balsam or other invasive species in the wild, please contact the Invading Species Hotline at 1-800-563-7711, or visit EDDmapS Ontario to report a sighting.
OFAH/OMNRF Invading Species Awareness Program. (2012). Himalayan Balsam. Retrieved from: www.invadingspecies.com.
This factsheet may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes.
Header photo by Jan Samanek, State Phytosanitary Administration