Rogues’ gallery: Portraits of a too-familiar weed

August 01, 2017

Is there anyone in Clatsop County on more intimate terms with the weed known as policeman’s helmet than our four summer stewardship interns? We doubt it. In the course of spending two months working full-time to rid the Necanicum watershed of Impatiens glandulifera, they have observed it closely and continuously, seen it from every angle, formulated theories about it, and occasionally snapped photos of it. (Poppy Gorman characterizes the image at left, of the bottom of a policeman’s helmet stalk caught in a sunbeam, as “gleaming with malice.”)

Their work here–and that of our volunteers who have often worked alongside them–will soon be done, and our interns will head off to school or jobs elsewhere. But NCLC and the Necanicum Watershed Council will be back next summer, with more interns and a renewed commitment to wipe out this invasive plant in Seaside and beyond. Before our interns depart, we share some of the images and observations they have made in a summer of pulling, piling and stomping policeman’s helmet.


No wonder it was a popular garden ornamental (Emily Guderian)


Policeman’s helmet has a fruity, sweet—almost sickly sweet—scent that it emits when it starts flowering.


They’re cute when they’re small (Amelia Reed)

A pile of bleached, dessicated stalks two days after they were stomped (Poppy Gorman)















I’ve been wondering what dictates the density in which policeman’s helmet grows on the banks of the river. Sometimes there will be masses of it on one property, but a quarter mile downstream we only find one or two. Is it the way the river bends? Or how fast it flows in certain places in the winter? Or the extent to which it floods over the banks? I have noticed that policeman’s helmet grows in dense stands on log jams, which may be an indicator that seeds get stuck in the piles of logs and then sprout.


“I was revolted the first time I saw a mega-policeman’s helmet plant. The nodes each had branches coming from them that contained their own set of leaves and flowers. It was a terrible sight to see.” (Poppy Gorman)


Policeman’s helmet is a succulent. With certain plants, you can see the water move from one end of the stem to the other if you tip the stem up and down, which I really like doing.


Growing upward through an old metal grate (Poppy Gorman)

Growing upward through (or enveloped by?) shelf fungus (Sabrina Wilk)















The leaves are variable in color: they range from yellow-green in the shade to dark green with red edges and veins in the sun.


“(Land Steward) Eric Owen has a theory that policeman’s helmet alters its appearance slightly to match that of the plant it is growing next to. This photo of policeman’s helmet next to knotweed reminded me of that theory.” (Poppy Gorman)


The stem is hollow, but it will bend to grow around existing vegetation; where the stem bends the new joint often has a reddish color.


“Plants in Arch Cape always seem to have magenta flowers, while at Circle Creek (in Seaside) I’ve only seen the white/light pink with darker speckles.”

“I wonder if it’s a soil nutrition thing?” (both photos by Poppy Gorman)















Snails and other invertebrates eat the leaves. Bumblebees love the flowers.


While I know that there can be some appearance variation in plants, the intense nature of our focus on policeman’s helmet means that I notice when a plant looks unusual. This plant, with its rounded edges, thick-looking leaves, and splotchy coloring, struck me.” (Poppy Gorman)


“Some of the plants develop curled/shriveled leaves; are they diseased?” (Emily Guderian)




Thank you to our strong, smart, and hard-working summer 2017 stewardship interns (L-R) Emily Guderian, Sabrina Wilk, Poppy Gorman, and Amelia Reed. Best of luck with your future endeavors!


  1. Katie Voelke says:

    Awesome story about amazing women. Thank you crew!

  2. Jeff Roehm says:

    What a pleasure to work with these four, intelligent young women. Thanks Emily, Poppy, Amelia and Sabrina for all you’ve done this summer. You guys are amazing!

  3. Holly Owen says:

    Fun article and photos. Policeman’s helmet reminds me of a sinister alien species aiming for world domination – the first photo captures this well. Cheers interns!

  4. Katie Duzik says:

    Great post and great work by these four intrepid interns. I imagine they had lots of time in the field this summer to think about the many ecological observations they had about this plant! Perhaps some graduate thesis in the works? Thanks for all your hard work NCLC/NWC!