Impatiens (Balsaminaceae)

* A large and VERY difficult genus, which is poorly known in the Himalaya. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' estimate c. 41 spp. within what they define as this mountain range.
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The following species of IMPATIENS have been recorded from the North-West Himalaya:

AMPLEXICAULIS, BALFOURII, BALSAMINA, BICOLOR, BRACHYCENTRA, EDGEWORTHII, FLEMINGII, GLANDULIFERA*, LAXIFLORA, MEEBOLDII, PARVIFLORA, RACEMOSA, SCABRIDA, SULCATA, THOMSONII.

Doubtful

PAHALGAMENSIS

IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA IS ILLUSTRATED FIRST, AS AN EXAMPLE, THE OTHER SPECIES FOLLOW IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER.

* Illustrated below
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'HIMALAYAN BALSAM' (IMPATIENS  GLANDULIFERA) 

FOR SUMMARY OF DIAGNOSTIC CHARACTERISTICS SEE THE FOLLOWING TWO 'SLIDES'

Note the gland-bearing leaves above which give this species its name - though other species of Impatiens exhibit this characteristic.

FOR OTHER IMAGES (CURRENTLY 46) OF THIS SPECIES SEE BELOW - THERE ARE LOTS!  OTHER CHARACTERISTICS OBSERVED ON SAMPLES OF I.GLANDULIFERA NATURALISED IN THE UK, WHICH MIGHT ALSO BE PRESENT ON THIS SPECIES IN THE HIMALAYA, ARE REDDISH ROOTS AT LOWER NODES WITH ANISEPTIC ODOUR - THESE SHOULD BE LOOKED FOR ON SPECIMENS IN THE WILD TO CHECK IF THEY ARE DIAGNOSTIC.

* Stewart stated that the balsams need to be studied when fresh and are very difficult in many cases to name with certainty in the herbarium.  Few of the old collectors mention colours on their labels and the colour is very important.  It is a great help in Impatiens to dissect a flower or two, pressing the parts separately and preserving them in small transparent envelopes or folders. It takes practise to perfect the method - otherwise, the balsam flowers are prone to press and dry badly, shrivelling up and being of little use.

One should always remember that the traditional way to identify a plant was to collect a pressed specimen of it, which could then be compared with reference collections of plants mounted on sheets, stored in often metal cabinets in herbaria, arranged in folders by region of the world, family, genus and species.  It is characteristics which can be examined on those pressed specimens, using the naked eye, typically a hand lens and if necessary a binocular microscope at higher magnification, which are used to determine the family, genus and finally, species a specimen belongs to..  Nowadays, it is only Indian botanists working at botanic gardens, universities and other botanical institution who can secure permission to collect such pressed specimens in the North-West Himalaya.  So what can possibly replace the gathering of pressed specimens?

WELL, WITH THE ADVENT OF DIGITAL CAMERAS, IT IS NOW POSSIBLE TO MAKE AN EXCELLENT RECORD OF BALSAMS WHEN FRESH, WHICH, AS LONG AS SUFFICIENT CLOSE-UP, IN-FOCUS IMAGES ARE TAKEN OF THE IMPORTANT PARTS, THEN THIS WILL START TO TRANSFORM THE STUDY OF THE GENUS; I WOULD RECOMMEND SOME 20-30 DIGITAL PHOTOS PER SPECIMEN, FROM WHICH THE BEST CAN SUBSEQUENTLY BE SELECTED, TO SUBMIT EITHER TO THIS SITE OR FOR AN IMPATIENS SPECIALIST TO STUDY FURTHER.  

UNFORTUNATELY, I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO AFFORD TO VISIT THE HIMALAYA TO PUT THIS INTO PRACTISE IN RECENT YEARS BUT SHARE BELOW SOME 46  IMAGES SELECTED FROM 3 SETS OF IMAGES  (TOTALLING 200+) TAKEN IN DIFFERENT LOCATIONS IN THE UK OF 'THE HIMALAYAN BALSAM' (IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA), AS AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT CAN BE DONE WITH A MODESTLY-PRICED DIGITAL CAMERA! RESULTING IN THE WEALTH OF VISUAL INFORMATION ABOUT VARIOUS CHARACTERISTICS OF THE SPECIES AND A HEIGHTENED APPRECIATION OF ITS BEAUTY (IT WAS INTRODUCED TO THE UK IN THE 1830s AS AN ORNAMENTAL PLANT, WHICH ESCAPED, NATURALISING IN MANY PLACES, BECOMING AN INVASIVE WEED IN THE HIGHER RAINFALL REGIONS OF THE UK AND BEYOND). 

AND THESE IMAGES WILL ALLOW  THOSE WHO WISH, PLENTY OF SCOPE TO "MATCH" THEM WITH  THEIR OWN PHOTOS OF BALSAMS, MAKING IT SO MUCH EASIER (NOT TO MENTION, RELIABLE) TO DECIDE WHICH SPECIES IT DOES OR DOES NOT BELONG TO - WITH AMPLE SUPPORTING EVIDENCE, IN ADDITION TO THE MAIN DIAGNOSTIC FEATURES GIVEN IN DETAILED DESCRIPTIONS OF THIS SPECIES IN FLORAS AND GUIDES.  A PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND WORDS.

I WOULD EVEN GO SO FAR AS TO ASSERT THAT THE SELECTION OF IMAGES SHOWN BELOW ARE BETTER THAN A PRESSED SPECIMEN IN A HERBARIUM IN MOST RESPECTS  OR EVEN A LINE DRAWING COMPLETED BY A TOP BOTANICAL ARTIST. - SEE: http://www.iiim.res.in/herbarium/balsaminaceae/impatiens_roylei.htm.  VASTLY SUPERIOR IN FACT.....
WITH, IT SEEMS, THE ACCOMPANYING NOTES IN THIS CASE NOT TAKEN IN THE FIELD BUT COPIED FROM A DESCRIPTION OF I.ROYLEI (which is an old synonym for I.glandulifera).  FOR ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF WHAT MOST SPECIMENS OF IMPATIENS  LOOK LIKE IN INDIAN HERBARIA, SEE: http://www.iiim.res.in/herbarium/balsaminaceae/impatiens_sulcata.htm- ONCE AGAIN, THE NOTES WERE COPIED FROM A PUBLISHED DESCRIPTION OF THE SPECIES, NOT RECORDED AT THE TIME OF COLLECTION.

MY UNDERSTANDING BALSAMS IS SO MUCH GREATER THAN BEFORE, THANKS TO THE QUALITY CLOSE-UP IMAGES I CAN NOW TAKE AND SCRUTINISE ON THE COMPUTER, SUPERIOR TO THOSE PHOTOS I MANAGED WITH A MACRO-LENS AND TRIPOD, IN THE DAYS OF SLIDE FILM.  AS A RESULT, I NOW HAVE INCREASED CONFIDENCE IN IDENTIFYING ALL THE SPECIES OF IMPATIENS FOUND NATURALISED IN THE UK (NONE ARE NATIVE) AND BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND THE SPECIES FOUND IN THE NORTH-WEST HIMALAYA BETTER - THOUGH THEY ARE STILL IN NEED OF FURTHER STUDY.
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IMPATIENS  GLANDULIFERA ('Himalayan Balsam' or 'Policeman's Helmet')

Stewart found this abundant in Kashmir @ 1800-3000m. 


 




My youngest son (aged about 10) photographing a colony of 'Himalayan Balsam' growing in a ditch near Pinewood Studios, Buckinghamshire, UK.  It is understood that IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA was first introduced into the UK, in light of its ornamental merit at the behest of Dr J F Royle, former Director of the East India Company's Botanical Garden at Saharanpur, north of Delhi, somewhen AFTER he had returned to England.  The provenance for this introduction was probably close to Mussoorie, where there was a Satellite garden - plants accustomed to the climate at Saharnpur, are unlikely to have survived outdoors in the UK.  There may have been subsequent introductions from e.g. Shimla (which experiences cold temperatures and snow during winter months) and perhaps Kashmir.  It took decades before Himalayan balsam became an invasive weed. 


A closer view of the colony in the ditch above.

One of the common names of this balsam is "Bees' Bums' because the flowers are frequently covered in bees (and other flying insects).


A bee deep inside a flower.  Bee keepers in Europe were encouraged to buy and sow the seeds - which probably contributed to its spread there.  It has gone much further - as far as Arctic Norway and Alaska! 


Interior of flower




Upper surface of leaf. 

Lower surface of leaf.

STIPULAR GLANDS on the petioles

Tip of under surface of leaf. 

Bracts.

Darker spots on lower saccate petal.

Front side of large anterior petal (with young green developing capsule beneath).

Reverse side of large anterior petal - dorsally crested.

2 lateral sepals

Capsules are broadly clavate (club-shaped).

These capsules are green and immature but they rapidly mature.  

Despite still being green, a touch will liberate the seeds - the fleshy capsules have explosive dehiscence for seed ejection.  Children soon discover the explosive properties of the pods, when approaching sufficient maturity, the slightest touch will set them off - no heavy rain drops would be more than sufficient!

Fully formed but un-ripened seeds.

Inter-node of stem. 

 Nodes +/- swollen - this one is certainly bulging.

Section of stem showing small hollow interior

Stipular glands - I wonder how many balsams in the Himalaya have such glands? 

From left to right: Larger anterior petal, small lateral sepal, lower sepal petaloid (prominent spots), saccate.

Partially dissected flower showing large anterior petal (at top) plus lateral ones fused (at bottom)


Interior of flower showing spotted lower saccate petal; above the entrance to lower petal are the 5 stamens with adnate anthers, which the humble-bees (in the UK - I do not know which insects pollinate Himalayan Balsam in the Himalaya) rub pass with pollen attaching.

White anthers forming a hood around the ovary.

Just below the centre of image above you will see white pollen on the anthers - which humble-bees rub against.  Lateral fused petals either side.

Side-view of lateral united petal 26mm long, unequal, lower one larger (15mm), upper with a thin incurved appendage.

Lower sepal saccate, abruptly ending in an incurved spur (green in this case).

River in Carmarthenshire, Wales where there was a riverside population of 'Himalayan Balsam', which are shown in the images below.

Most of its flowers were richly colour - highly ornamental in fact

Large anterior (top) petal.

Side view of individual flower showing curved green spur

Partly dissected flower showing lateral united petal with a small, more darkly coloured lateral sepal

Partly dissected flower

White pollen on anthers with anterior petal behind.


Stewart, in 'An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Pakistan & Kashmir' says this balsam is close to a large, pink-flowered species IMPATIENS SULCATA - distinguished by the alternate, crenate leaves and the narrowly clavate capsules.  You will soon be able to compare the images of 'Himalayan Balsam' with those of I.SULCATA on this web-site but I currently only have a small number of the latter species.

Some of the insects visiting the balsam here were so covered in the white pollen that they did not look like any I had seen before......

A paler coloured variant in the colony in Wales.

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SPECIES OF IMPATIENS RECORDED FROM NORTH-WEST HIMALAYA
 (arranged in alphabetical order)

 
I.amplexicaulis Edgew.- 1500-3600m.

 L.balfourii  Hook.f. - 900-2400m
 
I.balsamina L. - native of S.E.Asia, 900-1800m.

I.bicolor Royle (syn. I.amphorata Edgew. var. umbrosa Hook.f) - 1500-2700m; common in Kashmir.

 I.brachycentra Kar. & Kir. - 1950-3000m; very common & very variable with tiny white flowers; lower slopes of Rohtang, Kulu Valley

 I.edgeworthii Hook.f. (syn. I.chrysantha Hook.f.) - 1500-2700m yellow flowers.

 L.flemingii Hook.f. - 1200-2550m

 I.glandulifera Royle (syn. I.roylei Walp.) - 1800-3000m.

 I.laxiflora Edgew. (syn. I.micranthum Edgew.) - 1800-2400m.

 I.meeboldii Hook.f. - said to be like I.flemingii but with oppsite leaves, smaller flowers and a thin spur

 L.parviflora DC. - 1450-2700m

I.racemosa DC. - 1200-2400m; usually further east along the Himalaya.

 I.scabrida DC.(syn. I.cristata Wall.) - 1200-3600m.

 I.sulcata Wall. (syn I.gigantea Edgew.) - 1800-3600m.

 I.thomsonii Hook.f. - to 3600m; common in the alpine zone in Kashmir

Doubtful

I.pahalgamensis Hook.f. - Stewart considered the poor type specimen collected by Meebold at Pahlgam, Kashmir to be questionable.


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