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

# The genus is named from the Latin for impatient or hasty, an illusion to the manner in which the capsules of some species explode and scatter their seed when touched.  The species name 'balsamina' means Balsam and old name for the genus; 'glandulifera' meaning the leaves are gland-bearing.

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.  Flowering July to September. A tall hairless annual 1-2m, with flat-topped clusters of axillary flowers, borne near the shoot tips - conspicuous reddish-pink, pale pink or white flowers spotted inside.


Flowers of the Himalaya recorded this in shrubberies and common on grazing grounds, often growing gregariously @ 1800-4000m. Pakistan to Uttarakhand,  Doubtfully native in Nepal. Flowers 3-4cm long; the lower sepal broadly bell-shaped and abruptly contracted into a short slender cylindrical incurved spur c. 6mm; lower petals forming a broad prominent lip.  Polunin & Stainton say "spotted yellow within" but the examples of IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA I have examined in the UK do not exhibit this feature.


Collet found this common at Mahasu but makes no mention of finding it at Shimla in 'Flora Simlensis'; he knew it under the name IMPATIENS  ROYLEI.  It has not been recorded in Ladakh but 'Flora Lahaul-Spiti' records it as common along stream at Gemur.


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. 'Flora of the British Isles' describe the flower colour of 'Himalayan Balsam' as purplish-pink, rarely white, 5-10 together in racemes on long peduncles in the axils of all the leaves of a few of the upper whorls, which are much smaller than the lower ones.  Druce (an outstanding, widely-travelled field-botanist) writing in 'Flora of Buckinghamshire' (1926) stated it was "rare in waste places, but likely to spread" - which was prophetic.  But under 'Additions and Corrections' of this flora, Druce had (correctly I would say) concluded that a balsam (originally thought to be 'Orange Balsam (IMPATIENS BIFLORA now I.CAPENSIS), twice as tall as normal with a stem as thick as a common broom found between Harefield & Denham in the early 1950s, was in fact Himalayan Balsam.  As any introduction from Indian would have been trialled at Kew and the Royal Horticultural Society's Garden (then in London, rather than Wisley), finding its way to such a place within 20 years is quite feasible.  Within the main flora, the earliest records for it were Brickhill on the Ouzel in 1899 and waste ground at Denham, in 1918.

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!  Pollinated in the wild by humble-bees, cleistogamous flowers not known to occur.


Interior of flower


Opposite or whorled leaves (in whorls of 3 in the UK); leaves 6-20cm, sharply toothed with gland-tipped teeth


Upper surface of leaf.  Leaves lanceolate or elliptic in UK, acuminate, stalked; rounded or cuneate at base; petiole to 3.5cm, hollow, winged near apex.

Lower surface of leaf. Leaves serrate with (12) 24-75 teeth per side, at least the lower teeth tipped with red glands, with stomata both sides.

Neither 'Flowers of the Himalaya' nor 'Flora of the British Isles' mention the above, PROMINENT feature - ITS STIPULAR GLANDS on the petioles, which I was not aware of it until recent years - just goes to show what one misses but can observe if one examines plants more closely, even as keen, enthusiast & observant a field-botanist as I am, miss things!  However, this characteristic is noted in 'The Vegetative Key to the British Flora' (Polland & Clement, 2009). Its stipular glands are described as "long & red" in the above key.

Tip of under surface of leaf.  Sharply serrate with numerous teeth on each side.

Bracts elliptic-ovate or lanceolate-ovate, 7-8(-10)mm long.

Reddish roots (not visible here but I shall take images of this characteristic on a future occasion) present at lower nodes - usually with an antiseptic odour.  I shall check out the smell.  I am a great believer in "hands-on" examination of plants close-up.  Odours are under-utilised in plant identification - though of course, this cannot be told from a photo (not even a close-up digital one), whilst a dried, pressed specimen might smell differently or the odour lost altogether.

Darker spots on lower saccate petal.

Front side of large anterior petal (with young green developing capsule beneath) 7-8 x 12mm; apex bi-lobed.

Reverse side of large anterior petal - dorsally crested.

2 lateral sepals small, often greenish (not above); oblique cordate, 7-9mm long.

Capsules are broadly clavate (club-shaped) to 3cm, nodding; herbarium specimens examined by Nasir towards the Balsaminaceae account for 'Flora of Pakistan' were 14-18 (-25) mm long.

These capsules are green and immature but they rapidly mature.   Herbarium specimens examined by Nasir towards the Balsaminaceae account for 'Flora of Pakistan' were 14-18 (-25) mm long.

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 wold be more than sufficient!

Fully formed but un-ripened seeds. Herbarium specimens examined by Nasir towards the Balsaminaceae account for 'Flora of Pakistan' described the (mature, presumably) seeds as subglobose, 3mm broad, rugose.

Inter-node of stem.  Stems green, slightly ridged, to 2m.

 Nodes +/- swollen - this one is certainly bulging, as have most of the others I have examined in the UK.  I have never looked at 'Himalayan Balsam' closely during my visits to the Himalaya, only noticing it (growing in abundance) near Shimla at about 3000m on the Rohtang Pass, Kulu Valley.

Section of stem showing small hollow interior

Stipular glands - I wonder how many balsams in the Himalaya have such glands?  IMPATIENS BALFOURII, which only, as far as is know, naturalised by the river Thames at (in Surrey) but has now gone - so why is it included in 'The Vegetative Key to the British Flora'?  This species  along with IMPATIENS PARVIFLORA possibly brought in with Russian timber to the UK, now naturalised in scattered locations, also have stipular glands.  IF, such glands are only present on some balsams in the Himalaya, it would represent a very useful character (and prominent, once looked for) to distinguish between similar species and eliminate possible species which attempting to identify Himalayan Impatiens.  Given how difficult the genus is, then we need all the help we can get!

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 passed with pollen attaching.

White anthers forming a hood around the ovary - which is 5-locular, syncarpus (fused together)

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) 5-6mm long.

River in Carmarthenshire, Wales where there was a riverside population of 'Himalayan Balsam', which is shown in the images below. In parts of Wales (which enjoy a higher rain-fall than South-East England, where I live) it has become an invasive weed.  IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA is not, usually an aquatic plant as such, though is often found in damp locations.  I do recollect finding it along tributaries of the Upper Wye, Wales, when team leader of a survey of riverside vegetation there in the early 1980s.  We surveyed up to moderate elevations. 'Himalayan Balsam' (certainly at that time) was not observed once the river (or stream-side) substrate became too rocky.  I also remember, the following year, when working for the 'Wales Field Unit' of the old Nature Conservancy Council, coming across it growing as an aquatic, having invaded at wetland nature reserve.  Some of the habitats I have observed the plant in near to where I live, were such that for part of its annual existence, it would have been under water.

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

Large anterior (top) petal orbicular-depressed.

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.

'Flora of the British Isles' said it was completely naturalised on river banks and in waste places. Locally common in North & West England and Wales, less common in SE England, Scotland & Ireland (this was in 1962).  'New Flora of the British Isles' (1997) says: banks of rivers and canals, damp places and waste ground.  Note the drooping club-shaped capsules.

Crawley in 'Flora of Berkshire' records this balsam from margins of rivers, streams and ditches, marshes, wet woodlands, damp shady waste ground and rubbish tips.  Capable of forming impenetrable thickets on riverbanks and damp waste ground in towns - a remarkable achievement for an annual plant.

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. Polunin & Stainton, in 'Flowers of the Himalaya', also say I.SULCATA is like I.GLANDULIFERA but is distinguished by its linear, horizontal capsules, 2-3mm broad, describing its leaves as opposite, mostly rounded, not acute teeth.  You will 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......

Smythe wrote about Himalayan Balsam in 'The Valley of Flowers'.  He knew the plant as IMPATIENS ROYLEI.  It even has entries in the Index rather than just another plant in the systematic list of plants from the Bhyundar Valley and Upper Garwhal which is reproduced in the book as an Appendix.  One entry is called "ruinous to pasture".  In it he described the "rounding up" places where shepherds bring their flocks at night to prevent them from straying or being attacked by bears.  Such places, Smythe continued are distinguishable by the weeds that grow on them.  In Garwhal, it was very noticeable to him that where extensive grazing is permitted, the smaller and tenderer plants are soon eliminated and in their place spring up a tall knot-weed POLYGONUM POLYSTACHUM (now PERSICARIA POLYSTACHYA) and an even taller balsam IMPATIENS ROYLEI.  Once these two plants have got hold of the ground, pastureland is permanently ruined... Another Index entry was called, "a wilderness of", with two pages.  He spoke of losing a shepherd's track and having to force their way through a wilderness of pink-flowered balsam, growing 2.5m tall.  In 'Botanical Notes', he wrote, again prophetically, "Being a gardener and not a botanist I looked at the flora through a gardener's eyes.  The principal points that struck me were firstly the power that many plants had to adapt themselves to varying conditions and altitudes.  I have already mentioned in the text that I found a balsam growing 2.5m at 2100m and 20cm high at 4200m.  Such flowers should be able to adapt themselves to the British Climate."  INDEED, that has proven to be the case, with certain introductions of IMPATIENS GLANDULIFERA most definitely adapting themselves to both the British and other climates - AT TIMES, TOO WELL.  Pity we did not take heed, back in the 1930s, when this book was published, of the risks introducing species with the potential for becoming invasive weeds, might pose.  Mind you, it was, to an extent, already too late, as 'Himalayan Balsam' first introduced in the 1830s, had already started to spread around the UK by the time Smythe observed first-hand, its behaviour in the 'Valley of Flowers'.

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; was found at Shimla

 L.balfourii  Hook.f. - 900-2400m
 
I.balsamina L. - native of S.E.Asia, 900-1800m; axillary & solitary pink flowers; common on the borders of rice & other fields, visible as one drives up towards Shimla & Mussoorie in the autumn months

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

 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; very common in Kashmir; streamsides, rocks, grazing grounds

 L.flemingii Hook.f. - 1200-2550m

 I.glandulifera Royle (syn. I.roylei Walp.) - 1800-3000m; abundant in Kashmir; shrubberies, buchy places, common on grazing grounds; often growing gregariously; was common at Mahasu & near Shimla

 I.laxiflora Edgew. (syn. I.micranthum Edgew.) - 1800-2400m; according to Hooker may be recognized by two minute black corpuscles one on each side of the base of the 'standard' petal, representing a second pair of sepals; Shimla & Huttoo

 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; forests & damp places; Shimla, Fagu & Narkanda in shady, damp ravines

 I.scabrida DC.(syn. I.cristata Wall.) - 1200-3600m; forests, shrubberies, damp places; Shimla, more common at Mahasu; Manali and lower Rohtang, Kulu Valley

 I.sulcata Wall. (syn I.gigantea Edgew.) - 1800-3600m; forests, shrubberies, cultivated areas; common at Shimla

 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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