Guest Blog: Himalayan Balsam Report from the Front Line

September 01, 2013

The Himalayan Balsam Campaign, 2013: 
A report from the front line

We have reached that stage of the year when geriatrics like me should probably give up on Himalayan Balsam.  It is far too complicated.  Our plan, in the valley of the Colaton Raleigh brook, has been to execute three sweeps this year, roughly a month apart.  We are on the third sweep.  In a perfect world we should be finding balsam plants that are perhaps two feet tall having had just a month to grow.  They would offer no resistance.  But alas, the world is not perfect. Some plants will always be missed, perhaps on the first sweep or the second … or both …  If the latter, then they will be 8 or 9 feet high now and in full seed.  To evade detection during all this time since early June they must be strategically located.  Balsam is adept at locating strategically.  This morning, sensing that we had almost completed our third sweep, we were brought to our senses by discovering a previously unvisited block perfectly located … for balsam survival.  Trusses of beautiful pink flowers, and worse, ominous pods of seeds, were waving gently in the breeze above a morass of intertwined bramble, nettles and alder.  It would take hours.


The trouble with balsam is that, when it is about to explode, clearing requires extra tools, alertness and dexterity.  The latter two run into short supply as eighty approaches.  Because they are located by definition in difficult places, cutters are needed to force a passage.  Having stooped or crawled into the heart of the thicket, with nettles and brambles caressing your face, the cutters have to be replaced by scissors … and a plastic bag.  The art is to be able to stand up, reach out and gently, taking great care, bend the stalk down so that a truss can be reached, and snipped off.  The slightest contact with an obstacle (you are surrounded by obstacles) will cause the seeds to pop, rendering the exercise pointless.  Then the truss, having been snipped, must be placed in a plastic bag, touching nothing in the process.  But the scissors are in one hand, the truss in the other ….  It is a good idea to work in pairs.  Not only can your partner hold the plastic bag open to receive the truss of seedpods but help you search for the cutters that you put down (somewhere) when you needed two hands for the truss and the scissors; or the scissors (somewhere else) when you needed two hands for the cutters;  or your hearing aid that flipped out as your forced yourself head-first into that thicket.


With thanks to: Patrick Hamilton, Otter Valley Association, Natural Environment Committee

tags: balsam

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