This August, there will be a sudden explosion of colour. Large, tall, orchid-looking plants will flower up and down the country. Their dazzling colours will fill woodland, meadows and waterways and their scent will spread far and wide. Despite this plants beauty, there lies a hidden danger. For this plant is an invasive species. This plant is Himalayan Balsam, a South-East Asian plant species that has now spread across the UK. We will all recognise it, but how much do we really now about it’s effects?
This plant is a real survivor. It has adapted to grow very quickly and it will soon tower over many native species given the chance. Large light-green leaves block out much of the sunlight, pushing out any competition. After the flowers are pollinated, the plant also produces seed pods that when touched with even the slightest pressure explode. This eruption catapults the seeds inside in all directions, spreading the Balsam invasion even further next year.
The reason this can be such a disaster is that because this plant is not native, there aren’t many creatures that will eat it and keep it under control. The result is that the Balsam can go completely unchecked and whereas you would normally find half a dozen plant species in one area, providing food for a equal number of native insects, now all you find is the Balsam, reducing total biodiversity and putting British species at risk.
So what can we do? Now is the time to act. The plant has hollow, reddish stems with light green leaves and now is the perfect time to uproot them. If you want to have a go at some bashing, try to pull the plants completely out of the ground, including the roots. Hang them over a low lying tree trunk where they are out of reach from the ground. Note that it is illegal to aid the spread of Balsam, so make sure no uprooted plants end up on somebody else’s land.
By pulling up just a few plants whenever you see them, we can try to keep Balsam numbers lower than they would otherwise be. This buys nature time and hopefully, one of our native pest species will adapt to take advantage of this new food source. Until then, get bashing everybody!
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