Monday 23 June, went out with the Friends of the Hermitage of Braid (fohb.org) for my first attempt at balsam bashing. I’d heard of the invasive nature of the plant but wasn’t prepared for its ecology, so spent an uncomfortable evening on the side of a hill. Himalayan balsam lives with robust friends: nettles, brambles, roses. Harry Henniker pointed out that he’s never had to weed a nettle patch before…
From a botanical point of view, it’s superb: a fleshy plant, succulent and attractive to animals, that gets in among tough plants that the animals steer clear of. It’s also shallow rooting, suitable for other inaccessible places with minimal soil cover. The seed pods explode when touched and spread a thousand seeds over a wide area; and it likes hillsides so the seeds can travel even further. The SNH report (see earlier posts) says it’s the tallest annual in Britain.
Cleared a large patch, but noticed lots more. Am wondering how viable the seeds are and how long can they remain dormant in the soil. Apparently the Ranger has many groups working in the area although it’s got to be a big job… The SNH report shows that it’s all along the 5 rivers surveyed for the report.
There are good points, though! The Hermitage of Braid is lovely and the sun was out until 9pm when we finished. Even though we were on the North side of a hill there were great views over to the Braid Hills.
One of the group had previously found Hound’s Tongue (Cynoglossum officinale) in the vicinty. Looks like comfrey and it turns out that the plant is a member of Boraginaceae. However, looking through Phillips’ Wild flowers of Britain, I also see that forget-me-nots (Myosotis sp.) are in this family, so I’ll have to look a little closer than the obvious. (I also think some scrophulariaceae leaves and habit look more like comfrey than forget-me-nots.)
Phillips reckons it’s fairly common in central and South West England, becoming rare elsewhere. Smith et al.’s Plant life of Edinburgh and the Lothians records more genuses in the family than Phillips and notes that C. officinale is rare in the Midlothian vice-county having only been recorded in Polton (near Lasswade). Its habitat is also listed as coastal scrub, dunes and meadows which surprises me seeing as it was growing on the side of a hill.