Its pretty pink flowers are an attractive sight on the Lough’s edge, but Himalayan Balsam is a menace that needs to be stopped in its tracks. On Rams Island particularly at the northern end it has eradicated many of the native species that had established themselves around the small pond and beyond.
Himalayan Balsam is an annual and grows fresh each year from last years seeds germinating in March/April grows up to 2.5 metres high flowering in July and producing over 1000 seeds in Sept /October from each plant. The seeds can be waterborne and have spread all around the Lough.
A bit like a Busy Lizzie on steroids, this native of the Nepalese mountains escaped from the sedate environment of the garden flowerbed. It may be a wonder of nature, but it is a real threat to the wildlife on Lough Neagh.
Once seed-pods have formed, any disturbance will cause them to burst open, hurling seeds with incredible force that can only be compared to projectile vomiting. If you are unfortunate enough to brush against one at eye-level, it could actually damage your eyesight.
The seeds are spat out by a coiled spring mechanism within the seed-pod, which can be seen dangling from the pod afterwards.
Himalayan Balsam has crowded out native plants such as mint (mentha aquatica) and even young willows, which are important food sources for insects (which are themselves a vital part of the Lough’s food-chain). Our local insects seem to find this brash intruder repulsive, and steer clear of it. Any absence of insects means that the whole ecology of the Lough has been damaged.
One (perhaps the only) piece of good news about the Himalayan balsam is that it is incredibly easy to pull up.
Until the Balsam has been eradicated from Rams Island and hopefully Lough Neagh the chances of seeing rare plants such as Irish Lady's-Tresses Orchid (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) are slim indeed.