Scotch broom—the devil scourge
Updated: Jan 16, 2021
Recently (and occasionally triumphantly!) I have declared myself at war with scotch broom.
Those gently swaying yellow flowers on the hills of our farm were originally introduced to the area from their native Europe and North Africa. Their bright, vivid color was intended to decorate gardens, but I’ve been seeing it as a window of opportunity. When broom is flowering, disturbing the plant won’t distribute its seeds. My chance to gain some ground! After that, those flowers will become seed pods – in astonishing numbers. Sources vary widely, saying an individual plant can produce anywhere from 60 to 1500 pods, containing about five to eight seeds each. What sources about scotch broom agree on, though, is that over a lifetime each adult plant can generate thousands of pods containing tens of thousands of seeds. Those seeds can be viable for decades. However, it’s more likely they’ll take root and grow rapidly; and there will be yellow flowers covering the farm this year or next year. And I’d have another battle lined up almost immediately.
Anyone who’s driven a highway in the Pacific Northwest probably has some idea that broom is pervasive and hard to get rid of, but removing broom is vital for encouraging our ecosystem. Scotch broom is not only non-native, it is invasive. Unlike unproblematic non-native species, many of which live side by side with their native counterparts in the Pacific Northwest, scotch broom is actively destructive to beneficial plants. Thickets of scotch broom aren’t particularly edible or helpful to the wildlife around them, and scotch broom will quickly shoulder out forage plants and conifer seedlings. The kind of biodiversity it’s so important to me to encourage can’t grow around broom.
For more reasons than one; broom changes the chemistry of the soil around them so other plants can’t grow where broom is living. Even cut stalks of broom can discourage the growth of other plants. The broom I dig up gets dragged down to the fire pit pretty quickly - at least broom burns well. We’ve fueled a few campfires with hot dog roasts and s’mores at the expense of my opponents.
Even with the armfuls of it going on the fire, sometimes it seems like the little green foot soldiers of scotch broom are everywhere. Because scotch broom grows so easily on disturbed, sunlit soil, it was delighted to have a chance at the horse paddocks and hills we’re turning into farmland. Some of the bushes here are so thick and woody it looks like you could climb them like trees.
They’ve had a while to grow; the broom probably came the way broom usually does, spreading opportunistically through those hardy seed pods and a tendency to spring up wherever there’s a chance. Right up on the back of our property you can look out on a long stretch of DNR land—with yellow flowers as far as the eye can see. Deer and elk come through there, following game trails that cross our property; the scotch broom probably came from there, too.
As I uproot broom and plant native species, it feels good to participate in helping the ecosystem here succeed against invasive species. Pulling out the broom and planting red flowering currant by the back of the farm, where the DNR land starts, our farm is more intentionally connected to supporting the larger system of the Puget Sound.
Scotch broom robs the character of the places it grows, replacing diverse environments and complex harmonies with monochromatic yellow flowers. I’m looking forward to seeing this land full of diverse species of plants and animals, colorful and sustaining to us and our community.
But first I have to get the broom out. And so – for now! – the war goes on.