Pretty in Pink… Or Not?
The upper peninsula, especially the eastern upper peninsula is home to a huge variety of beautiful flowers. But sometimes, those beautiful flowers have sinister purposes.
Located behind Sault Area High School, Minneapolis Woods is a wonderful place for Soo locals to go for a run, take the dog for a walk, play some disc golf, and during the winter it provides skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. Throughout the woods, a hiker or walker can find themselves going down into little valleys with streams and up to crests where big trees grow.
At the bottom of these miniature valleys, amongst the native jewel weed and willow shrubs, a pink, helmet shaped flower grows. Upon approach the flower has a long celery-esque stalk, hollow throughout the middle. The leaves, an almond-shape with ridged edges. This flower is that of Himalayan Balsam. At first glance, this beautiful bright flower appears to be harmless and a great addition to the environment around, however, this flower is in fact the opposite.
Originating from, like the name suggests, the Himalayan region in Asia. It came to Michigan from Canada, as Himalayan Balsam is a much larger issue just across the bridge. Himalayan Balsam is also an annual plant that can grow up to four feet tall and has very shallow roots. It tends to grow in soils with a higher moisture content, leaving riparian areas at risk.
The biggest threat from Himalayan Balsam is that of soil erosion. The reason balsam erodes the soil is actually because of their roots. Since balsam roots only grow to be about 3-6 inches and grow more horizontally through soil rather than vertically, when they die off the soil is left completely unsupported. So, in the fall when balsam dies, the soil is left unsupported throughout winter, and then in the spring when the snow thaws, it will cause the soil to erode and fall apart.
Another big threat from himalayan balsam is that it distracts native pollinators from pollinating native plant species. They do this through the chemical makeup of their nectar, making it have a stronger smell to pollinators and a sweeter taste as well.
Currently, Himalayan Balsam has only really been found on the Lake Superior coastline from Sault Ste Marie to Brimley, but it has been reported as being found going more west along the coastline. So, to help combat this potentially very damaging plant, keep a look out and do not interact with the flower from the months of August to November as the plant will shoot their seeds up to 5 meters away and make management much more difficult.
If there is a large infestation you may know about or have any questions regarding Himalayan Balsam or any other invasives let us know!