Himalayan balsam

Identification & Biology
Alias' : policeman’s helmet, poor man’s orchid, Indian balsam, ornamental jewelweed
Latin Name : Impatiens glanulifera
Category : Terrestrial Plants
Description :
  • Annual growing 0.6 – 3 metres tall 
  • Reddish stem is smooth and hollow with distinct segments and leaves growing on opposite sides or in a circular shape 
  • Leaves are 5–20 centimetres long, dark green with jagged edges and a red vein down the middle 
  • Crushed foliage has a strong musty smell 
  • Highly attractive pink to fuchsia flowers resemble slippers or orchid flowers 
  • Very shallow root system 


Native to the western Himalayas, Himalayan balsam was introduced to Canada as an ornamental plant. Plants bloom in summer. When seedpods have ripened they explode, distributing thousands of seeds up to 7 m away. It rapidly dominates a variety of environments, spreading up to 32,000 seeds per square metre. Seeds can remain viable for up to 18 months in the soil.  

There are a number of other Impatiens species in BC that Himalayan balsam could be confused with, especially in the absence of flowers. 


Himalayan balsam requires moist soils and some soil disturbance to establish (e.g. uprooted trees or flooding). It thrives best in nutrient rich soils of disturbed riparian habitats and wet woodlands. It can also grow in wet meadows and forest cut blocks. It is primarily in southern BC, particularly the Lower Mainland, Fraser River delta, Kootenay, Terrace and Bella Coola Valley. Patches of Himalayan balsam have been identified in the Okanagan Valley, on private land and in municipal parks.  

Impact & Risks
  • Himalayan balsam is particularly damaging to riparian zones where it produces dense stands, creating monocultures and reducing biodiversity by limiting nutrient and habitat availability and shading out native plants.  
  • In winter, erosion can occur as a result of Himalayan balsam’s shallow rooting having replaced the deeper rooted native vegetation. Its extremely sweet nectar may attract pollinators away from native plants. 
Prevention & Mitigation

The most effective way to ensure that your lands do not become infested with Himalayan balsam is by prevention. Here are some recommendations to prevent invasion: 

  • Maintain your crops and natural lands in a healthy, vigorous condition to ensure a competitive plant community.  
  • Do not purchase, trade or grow Himalayan balsam. 
  • Regularly patrol your property, paying special attention of areas of higher moisture such as creek/wetland edges, and immediately control or remove infestations before seedpods have formed 
  • Cooperate with adjacent landowners and encourage them to control Himalayan balsam. 
  • Ensure soil, gravel and fill are not contaminated. Do not move contaminated soils to a new area.  
  • Avoid unloading, parking or storing equipment and vehicles in infested areas.
Treatment & Disposal
  • Himalayan balsam can be effectively hand pulled or clipped before seed set. Minimize soil disturbance which encourages seed germination. This control technique needs to be repeated monthly during the growing season. Cut plants may continue to grow. 
  • If seedpods have already formed, then removed plants must be carefully bagged and taken to a landfill for burial.  
  • Mowing or brush cutting large sites that are away from sensitive sites can prevent seed production but plants may continue to grow, and adjacent desirable plants may be harmed. 
  • Burning and composting are not recommended. 
  • Chemical control is also an option. Before applying herbicides, read the label for full use and precautionary instructions.  
  • For further information on the selection and application of chemicals to protect your crop, contact AgriService BC at 1-888-221-7141 or email AgriServiceBC@gov.bc.ca.  
  • There are currently no biocontrol agents (natural insect enemies) for Himalayan balsam in BC.One Puccinia species (rust) is currently in the testing phase in Europe. 
Okanagan Distribution

Priority Level Definitions

Watch For - Poses a significant threat (very high risk) and does NOT presently occur in the region OR is relatively new to the region and is very limited in extent.
High - High risk/impact; limited population with significant potential to spread in the region.
Medium - Medium risk/impact; limited distribution – broader population distribution with potential to spread further in a region.
Low - Low risk/impact; may be widespread or not, may be of concern in specific situations with certain high values – e.g. specific agriculture crops. Some species may be treated primarily with biological control agents.