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Facts About Himalayan Balsam Plants and Still Creek in Burnaby

Linda Crampton is a writer and teacher with an honors degree in biology. She loves to study nature and write about living things.

A Himalayan balsam plant with dark pink flowers

A Himalayan balsam plant with dark pink flowers

Himalayan Balsam Plants Beside Still Creek

Himalayan balsam is a lovely plant with attractive flowers and a strong fragrance. The flowers are hooded, giving the plant the alternate name of policeman's helmet. The plant grows as a wildflower and is also planted in gardens. The species has spread widely from its native habitat. Unfortunately, it's often invasive in the wild.

One of the places where the Himalayan balsam can be found in British Columbia is around Still Creek in the city of Burnaby. The city is located immediately to the east of Vancouver. The creek travels across the centre of the city and eventually enters Burnaby Lake. The area where Still Creek approaches the lake and the land around the lake itself form a natural park known as the Burnaby Lake Regional Park.

I often visit Still Creek and Burnaby Lake and always have my camera with me. The park is a wildlife sanctuary. Many interesting plants and animals (especially birds) and some lovely scenery can be seen in the area. Unless otherwise noted, the photos in this article were taken by me. They were taken beside Still Creek or in one case beside Eagle Creek.

Himalayan balsam with flowers, seed pods, and leaves arranged in whorls

Himalayan balsam with flowers, seed pods, and leaves arranged in whorls

Despite the creek's name, the water in Still Creek may not be "still". The water moves rapidly at some times of the year and in some parts of its route.

Still Creek looks beautiful as it approaches Burnaby Lake. It doesn't look like this throughout its route, however.

Still Creek looks beautiful as it approaches Burnaby Lake. It doesn't look like this throughout its route, however.

Still Creek in Burnaby

Burnaby is located in the southwestern corner of British Columbia. The city contains many watercourses, including creeks and rivers, as well as several lakes. In recent years, there has been a strong emphasis on maintaining and where necessary reestablishing the health of Burnaby's aquatic areas.

Burnaby contains areas of original and undeveloped landscape as well as many parks. It also contains residential, commercial, and industrial areas. In the recent past, Still Creek suffered from its route through the industrial parts of the city and was heavily polluted. The water quality in the creek is now improving due to the work of some very dedicated people. In fact, the quality of the water is currently so good that salmon recently returned to the creek to spawn after an absence of about eighty years.

Still Creek and Himalayan balsam growing on the near bank

Still Creek and Himalayan balsam growing on the near bank

Himalayan Balsam or Policeman's Helmet

The scientific name of the Himalayan balsam is Impatiens glandulifera. As its common name suggests, it's native to the Himalayas. It has been introduced as a garden plant in many parts of the world due to its beauty. The plant has spread from gardens to the wild, where it's sometimes invasive and annoying. The plant's roots are quite shallow and weak, which makes hand pulling of the plant feasible.

Stems

Himalayan balsam is a tall plant that may reach a height of nine feet or more. The stems are generally hollow and are green or red in colour. The main stem of the plant sometimes becomes thick and cane-like.

Leaves

The plant's large leaves are lanceolate (long, narrow, and tapering to a point) and toothed. Their midrib is prominent. The leaves are usually arranged in whorls around the stem. The foliage of a group of plants can form a dense wall.

Flowers

A single plant produces multiple flowering stems. Himalayan balsam flowers may be white, light pink, dark pink, purple, or multicoloured. A clump of plants with flowers of different colours is a lovely sight. The shape of a flower reminded someone of a traditional policeman's helmet worn in Britain, giving the plant one of its alternate names. The flower has five petals, one of which forms a hood over the flower. The flower's nectar is very attractive to bees.

A side view of a Himalayan balsam flower

A side view of a Himalayan balsam flower

Himalayan balsam flowers produce a strong scent. The fragrance is most noticeable when a group of plants are growing close to each other and are all in flower.

The Fruits or Seed Pods

Another name for Himalayan balsam and for some of its relatives is touch-me-not. The fruits or seed pods are long, thin, and ribbed. If they're touched when they are ripe, the pods immediately spring open and shoot their seeds into the air. The ribs of the pod are instrumental in ejecting the seeds and remain as coils once the seeds are released. The seeds travel as far as twenty feet and remain viable for eighteen months to two years.

The first word or genus in the scientific name of touch-me-nots—Impatiens—is Latin for "impatient". The name is said to be derived from the plant's habit of releasing its seeds at the slightest touch. It's fun to touch a ripe pod and watch the mini-explosion. It might not be a good idea to deliberately release the seeds of invasive Himalayan balsam, however, even though the pods will probably open from natural causes on their own. The second word or species in the scientific name of the Himalayan balsam plant refers to the short, glandular structures at the base of some of the petioles, or leaf stems.

Some areas have native touch-me-nots. Their seed pods can be triggered without guilt. In British Columbia, jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) is a native plant. It has orange flowers and a more delicate appearance than the sturdy policeman's helmet. The leaves of jewelweed glisten when wet, giving the plant its name.

Himalayan Balsam Releasing Seeds

Estimates for the total number of seeds released by a Himalayan balsam plant in a season range from 800 to 2,500. That's a lot of seeds.

A lovely pale pink version of the Himalayan balsam flower

A lovely pale pink version of the Himalayan balsam flower

Why May Himalayan Balsam Be a Problem?

There are a variety of reasons why Himalayan balsam can be detrimental to its environment.

  • A single Himalayan balsam plant produces many seeds, allowing the plant to spread rapidly.
  • The plant often grows in wetlands besides watercourses. The seeds survive in the water and are carried to new areas of wet soil beside the watercourse.
  • Since the plant grows rapidly and is so tall, it can crowd out shorter plants.
  • In some places, the plant is so abundant that it blocks waterways.
  • Himalayan balsam is an annual plant. When a group of plants die in the fall, the ground is left bare and is vulnerable to erosion.
  • The fact that Himalayan balsam is so attractive to bees reduces the insects' visits to native plants.

If someone is determined to grow the plant in their garden, they should check their local regulations. It may not be permissible to grow the plant in the region and people may be required to remove it if it seeds naturally.

This article focuses on Himalayan balsam in Burnaby Lake Regional Park, but the plant has been introduced to other areas. I see it beside Eagle Creek, which like Still Creek flows into Burnaby Lake. It's a problem in other parts of British Columbia, in Washington, in Britain, and probably in additional places.

Multicoloured Himalayan balsam flowers beside Eagle Creek in Burnaby.

Multicoloured Himalayan balsam flowers beside Eagle Creek in Burnaby.

Controlling the Plant

At the moment, although Himalayan balsam is noticeable in Burnaby Lake Regional Park, its growth doesn't seem to be out of control. I've been going to the park for many years, however, and have noticed that the plant is becoming more abundant. I suspect that many people are delighted to see the pretty flowers and smell their intense fragrance without realizing the problems that the plants can cause.

The best method of control for Himalayan balsam is said to be physical removal of the plant and roots. This may be time consuming, but it's the safest method. Pesticides work, too, but they are not good to apply in a park setting where they may affect other plants. Pesticides are certainly not advisable next to a body of water, where Himalayan balsam often grows.

Some people grow Himalayan balsam plants in their gardens. This can be a serious problem. It doesn't do much good to remove the wild plants if the area is then reseeded by garden plants. It's better to choose other species of Impatiens for gardens.

If someone decides to remove Himalayan balsam plants by pulling them from the ground, they should investigate the best way to dispose of the plants in their community. Pulled plants can still release seeds. It's best to pull the plants before they flower or produce seeds.

Still Creek viewed from under an overpass

Still Creek viewed from under an overpass

The Revitalization of Still Creek

Still Creek in Burnaby Lake Regional Park is a beautiful stream and attracts many plants and animals. The Still Creek Rookery is a treed area located near the water and is the site where up to 6,000 local crows spend the night outside of the breeding season.

The health of the creek in Burnaby depends on what is happening in the rest of its route. The creek travels through the neighbouring city of Vancouver and then into Burnaby, so Vancouver's care of the water is important. One of the reasons why the creek is so interesting to observe for visitors such as myself is the work that has been done upstream to protect the creek.

Many people are working to revitalize the stream. One of the leaders in the effort is Mark Angelo. He's a keen river conservationist who also publicizes the importance of river and stream health internationally. He's the founder of both BC Rivers Day and World Rivers Day. Before his retirement, Mark Angelo was the head of the Fish, Wildlife and Recreation program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

Still Creek once contained industrial contaminants, sewage, and garbage. As the video below shows, with the right care, streams in urban and industrial areas can be as healthy as those in park settings. The revitalization of the creek began in 2012. Since that time "hundreds" of chum salmon have been seen in the creek, according to the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation).

Mark Angelo Discusses the Return of Salmon to Still Creek

World Rivers Day is celebrated each year on the last Sunday of September. According to the event's website, more than sixty countries celebrate the day.

A Worrying Observation

Unfortunately, despite the efforts to keep the creek in good health, at the end of 2019 it was reported that salmon hadn't returned to Still Creek in three years. In addition, the number of salmon in other local creeks has been poor during this time. It's thought that the major cause for the lack of fish is a change in ocean conditions due to climate change. Some investigators think that more revitalization is needed in the creek, however. I hope the salmon return.

The Value of Creeks and Streams

Creeks and streams are valuable environmental features and have much to offer us as well as the environment. They provide a habitat for aquatic life and water for wildlife and in some cases for humans. They also support the growth of plants on their banks. In addition, they transport useful sediments and nutrients to new areas. Streams play an important role in the water cycle on Earth.

It's wonderful for people to discover that streams such as Still Creek can be interesting and educational places, even in cities. It could be argued that Himalayan balsam, although pretty, is not the best plant to appear near a stream due to its potentially invasive nature. There are many native plants that grow on stream banks, though, and many animals that depend on the vegetation. A creek or stream can be a very enjoyable place to visit.

References and Resources

© 2015 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on March 17, 2016:

Thanks for the comment and the share, Peggy! I always appreciate your visits. It is wonderful that the fish have returned. It's great to see what determined people can accomplish!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 17, 2016:

What a lovely area! That is wonderful that the salmon have returned to spawn after a hiatus of 80 years. Thanks for teaching us about this pretty but invasive plant. Will be sharing!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on January 21, 2016:

Hi, aesta1. Thanks for commenting. I always enjoy a walk in the woods. I love being surrounded by trees and flowers.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 21, 2016:

This is very interesting. I go to the woods once in a while but very seldom do I recognize any of the beautiful flowers I see. Thank you for posting this.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 20, 2015:

Thank you for the visit and the comment about the photos, Devika.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on September 19, 2015:

A wonder in most lives. I like the lovely photo presented here.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 01, 2015:

Thank you for the comment, Dianna. It is a beautiful place. I love visiting it at any time of year.

Dianna Mendez on September 01, 2015:

What a beautiful place. I didn't know one flower could be so overpowering to others.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 18, 2015:

Thank you, Blossom. I appreciate your visit and comment.

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on August 18, 2015:

An interesting article with delightful photos.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 18, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment and the votes, Rachel. I appreciate your visit. Blessings to you as well!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 18, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, Deb. I'll add the additional information about pesticides when I edit the hub. Birds and bees need all the help that we can give them!

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on August 18, 2015:

Hi Alicia, I just love reading about and seeing nature. It's just one of God's blessings to us. Even thought that flower might over take other plants, it's still a beautiful flower, even though the flower it's self is small. I also enjoyed the video of the salmon coming back to that creek. Thanks for sharing and all the work you did in this hub. I voted up, awesome and beautiful.

Blessings to you.

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on August 18, 2015:

This is a wonderful piece, reflecting in the glow and bounty of nature. I hope to not offend, but regarding pesticide control, not only does it affect what you mentioned, it will also affect the bird and bee population. If you could include that fact, that could help us all in the quest of ecosystem survival, as well as that of the insects and birds. Thanks for all that you do.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 17, 2015:

Hi, Bill. Yes, I'm very happy to live where I do. There are many beautiful sights to see, even though I live in a city! Thank you for the comment.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on August 17, 2015:

How interesting Linda. Have never heard of the Himalayan Balsam. It's beautiful as is the Still Creek. You live in a beautiful area. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 17, 2015:

Thanks, Flourish. It is good to see damaged areas revitalized. I hope the improvement continues.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 17, 2015:

What a beautiful and educational hub, Linda. It's good to see areas that were once industrial sore spots return to thriving areas with the coaxing of caring citizens.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 15, 2015:

Hi, ladyguitarpicker. Yes, Canadians do love salmon, at least where I live! Thank you very much for commenting and for sharing the information.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 15, 2015:

Hi, Mel. It's so sad that people thought they were helping the environment by introducing the salt cedar when they were actually hurting it! Thanks for the comment.

stella vadakin from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619 on August 15, 2015:

I love that the Salmon are back. I have a lot of family in Canada and they love their Salmon. The plant is beautiful but I can see where it could cause problems. They had the same problem happen to the river here in Fl. Great Hub.

Mel Carriere from San Diego California on August 15, 2015:

We have a big problem with introduced here in the Southwest as well, Linda. One of these is the invasive salt cedar, which was brought in to control erosion but is now out of control. I am glad they are cleaning up the creek. Interesting facts, and great hub!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 14, 2015:

Hi, Larry. Yes, it is beautiful. It's a lovely place to visit. Thanks for the comment.

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on August 14, 2015:

Just a beautiful ecosystem along the waterway.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 14, 2015:

Thanks for the visit, RTalloni. I think the revitalization of Still Creek is impressive. I hope it stays healthy. I also hope that Himalayan balsam doesn't become a serious problem!

RTalloni on August 14, 2015:

Thanks for an interesting read. The fact that Still Creek has been revitalized makes this worth reading, but the Himalayan Balsam is a neat plant to learn about. Herbicides could be helpful in places that it truly invasive, but that does not seem necessary in this place. Thanks for including the videos--very much enjoyed seeing the seed pod in action.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 14, 2015:

Hi, midget38. I agree - it is a beautiful flower! Thank you for commenting.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 14, 2015:

Hi, Ann. Thank you very much for the visit and the lovely comment! I remember snapdragons from my childhood. I haven't seen one for a long time, though. Your comment has reminded me about them.

Michelle Liew from Singapore on August 14, 2015:

It really is a beautiful flower!

Ann Carr from SW England on August 14, 2015:

Beautiful place, informative article and superb photos, Alicia.

The flower looks very similar to what we used to call 'snap-dragons' but also 'policeman's helmets' but I'm not sure they really are the same. Snap-dragon was because of its movement when you squeezed the base of the flower, the top and bottom snapped together. Thanks for reminding me of that!

Great hub.

Ann

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 13, 2015:

Thank you very much, Nell. I appreciate your visit and the kind comment.

Nell Rose from England on August 13, 2015:

Beautiful and really interesting hub Alicia, I learned something new about the Himalayan balsam, I had never heard of it before, wonderful!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 13, 2015:

Thank you very much for the lovely comment, Martie. I appreciate the nomination a great deal, too!

Martie Coetser from South Africa on August 13, 2015:

Very interesting, useful and well-written hub about the Himalayan balsam aka Impatiens glandulifera. I love Impatiens and have some cultivars in my garden. Thanks, Alicia. I have nominated you as the Best Teacher :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 13, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, M L Morgan. It's nice to meet you!

M L Morgan on August 13, 2015:

A well researched and well constructed article. You describe such beauty and obviously have a great passion for nature :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 13, 2015:

Thank you very much for the kind comment and the vote, Jodah. I appreciate your visit.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on August 13, 2015:

A beautiful and informative hub with equally wonderful photos. Voted up.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comments and all the votes, Faith. It is wonderful that Still Creek has been cleaned up. It's not in perfect condition yet, but it's getting there!

Faith Reaper from southern USA on August 12, 2015:

We have so many creeks and streams here in my state in southern USA. Wow, that is wonderful that Still Creek has been cleaned up from contaminates! The Himalayan balsam flower is certainly beautiful and I wish I could smell it ... I would have never known about the problems it causes if I had not read this article. You are always teaching us new things.

Up ++++ and away

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, vote and share, Jackie. It is hard to remember that the plant can be invasive when looking at its lovely flowers!

Jackie Lynnley from the beautiful south on August 12, 2015:

Very beautiful plant; don't think I have ever seen it but I guess it is like our Kudzu to get out of control but still look so beautiful. Hard to look at the bad side though, huh?

Up and shared.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2015:

Hi, Phyllis. I appreciate your visit and comment. The park is certainly a lovely place to visit. It's both picturesque and interesting.

Phyllis Doyle Burns from High desert of Nevada. on August 12, 2015:

Such a beautiful area to visit and take photos. I can imagine walking along the river and admiring the wild life. The Himalayan Balsam is a very interesting plant, and so lovely. It is a wonderful thing that the conservation efforts have brought back the long missing salmon.

Thanks for writing this informative hub, Linda.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2015:

Thank you very much for the comment, thumbi7.

JR Krishna from India on August 12, 2015:

Thanks for this beautiful hub

I have learned something new

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2015:

It is amazing, drbj. A lot of work was involved! Thanks for the comment.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on August 12, 2015:

Thanks for the introduction to this interesting plant, Alicia. How amazing that salmon returned to Still Creek after 80 years or more.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2015:

Hi, Audrey. Thanks for the visit. Introduced plants can certainly cause a lot of problems!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 12, 2015:

I hope the area remains beautiful, too, Bill. I will be watching the situation closely. Thanks for commenting.

Audrey Howitt from California on August 12, 2015:

We have similar problems with some of the grasses here in California--they are non-native species and cause all kinds of problems--very informative hub!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 12, 2015:

Beautiful country, Linda. I sure hope it remains that way and the citizenry takes steps to always protect it.

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