Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Gardening: Broom Trouble

A few weeks ago, I was at Home Depot in search of perennial shrubs for a sunny spot in the backyard, and I came across a type of plant that looked like it would be perfect. The foliage was a lovely, slightly feathery green with racemes of bright yellow flowers, and by the shape of the blossoms I thought it might be in the pea family. The tag said Genista spp. and French Broom, that it liked full sun, and that it would grow to be about six feet tall. I wasn’t familiar with this particular species, but it seemed like just the plant for this particular spot in the yard.

I took three of them home and planted them. Then, wanting to know more about them, I did a little research on the specimens I had just planted.

Sure enough, the genus Genista is in the pea family (Fabacaea), and these plants are sturdy perennials that like full sun. Besides the fact that they can grow to be 16 feet tall, not six feet tall (who’s counting?), there’s one major problem: brooms are invasive species—noxious weeds—in California. It dawned on me that those magnificent sweeps of yellow and green that flow for miles all over California, quite beautiful as you drive by on the freeway, are made up of various brooms—French broom, Spanish broom, and Scotch broom.

That’s great. I spent $45 on three shrubs that are going to take over my yard, propel their seeds 12 feet into the air, crowd out native species, cause paralysis in livestock, and generally make a terrible nuisance of themselves. Two questions came to mind: why does a major chain like Home Depot sell invasive species, “noxious weeds,” in their nurseries, and what should I do with these dumb plants? I’m guessing the answer to the first question has something to do with the almighty dollar.

I sent my question about what to do with the plants to the California Native Plant Society. One of their representatives assured me that it was probably OK to leave them in my yard, because their chances of escaping a fenced in suburban lot were slim, and birds did not seem to carry the seeds terribly far. Still, I was a bit concerned about how they would spread. Still, I didn’t want to waste my $45 and toss them. My compromise? I stuck them each in a large pot. That should contain the roots, and I’ll just have to watch out for exploding seed pods.

One more thing about French broom that I discovered: snails love it! I was surprised, because I think of snails as munching on tender basil and soft viola petals, not tough broom twigs. Yet, every morning, my potted brooms are covered with snails of every size, chomping away at the leaves and flowers.

I'm learning the hard way that brooms are trouble!


Anonymous Anonymous said...
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Blogger Glenn said...

Just received the same plant as a gift from my mother that she picked up at the Home Depot. I too was surprised as the witer found out that this species has been classified as a noxious weed. I planed mine by the electric meter and will have to wait and see how it spreads.

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This type of shrub is very cute, decorate much, besides giving a good appearance to the place.

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