Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The Mystery Plant rose up out of a long garden bed we'd created as an afterthought last year. That is, after leveling the ground and adding more pavers to our patio, we were too lazy to lug the heaped-up soil elsewhere in the yard and figured we might as well let the heap be a new plot that could border the area.
It soon stood taller than all the other new plants in that bed, and finally blossomed into a deep-throated, richly colored flower that reminded me of an orchid. For a day or so, I thrilled to the notion that perhaps some rare woodland species had taken root in my humble garden, reflecting an appreciation for our efforts to create a leafy oasis in the city without using any chemicals.
Then I got a little concerned. This thing just kept growing taller and more vigorous looking, putting me in mind of Audrey from "Little Shop of Horrors." So I did what anybody would do when faced with a possibly carnivorous plant: I started googling.
How do you google an unknown plant? Well, you'd be amazed at how quickly you can find what you're looking for if you throw a lot of adjectives at the search engine. Some combination of the words "purple," "pink," "green pointy leaves," and "red stems" led me to a discussion board, where someone else was trying to figure out the plant volunteering in their garden, and that in turn led to a suggestion by another person who included a link to a possible species.
Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera), an extremely invasive non-native species designated as a Class B noxious weed in the "top 20" of non-native weeds in Washington State, which requires that the plant be controlled when found. Its aliases include "policeman's helmet" and, in the UK, "kiss-me-on-the-mountain."
The seemingly innocent flower was in actuality a ferocious destroyer of habitats, a plant that could overwhelm native species in wetlands and moist woodlands, shading them out and hogging all the light and nutrients. It grows seed capsules that explode, launching seeds up to 21 feet away from the plant, thus ensuring that it will quite literally sow seeds of destruction.