Aye, there’s the shrub
Shrubbery is a rather unassuming word, which most Marin County citizens would probably not consider within the top three, 10 or even 50 threats to the native ecosystem of the North Bay.
But one particularly malicious shrub poses a far greater and more immediate danger than its misleadingly pretty flowers would indicate.
This devastatingly destructive piece of greenery is called broom. And though broom is an unintimidating name, remember this rhyme: Broom starts with a bloom and ends with doom and gloom.
But what makes broom so bad? Well, broom is an invasive species of plantlife native to the more Mediterranean parts of Europe—its preference for such climates, especially those without significant amounts of frost in the winter time, makes places like coastal California and the Bay Area in general a perfect place to put down roots—literally.
Those roots quickly take hold in the soil, seeping up nutrients, space, sunshine and other resources from the native plants of the North Bay. Broom’s tenacious nature can easily choke out entire fields, meadows, roadside and other open spaces, making it difficult for other plantlife and animals to navigate through the thick, dense shield of invasive shrubbery.
To make matters worse, broom is a hardy plant that grows strong and quick. And even if broom is cut back, its roots can often regrow another plant from what lies hidden beneath the soil. Once the shrub has grown and flowered, it develops seed pods that, once mature and dried out, will pop open and spread hundreds upon thousands of seedlings in every direction like little baby broom bullets. In other words—yikes!
Broom isn’t just inconvenient in maintaining the delicate balance of the native plants and animals of Marin, but is a danger to the citizens of Marin as well. See, after the broom grows up into a lovely bush and spreads its seed, it then dries out and becomes the best, most flammable kindling a spark could hope to find in those rainless summer months.
So, what can be done about all this broom doom and gloom? Especially when the seed-spread is so wide and the plant itself incredibly—almost admirably—tenacious? Well, the only thing that can be done is to band together to battle the broom and prove that humanity can outsmart a shrub. Or at least stop its spread, one season at a time.
Broom comes in a few different subcategories of species, the most relevant in Marin being French broom, Scotch broom, Spanish broom and Portuguese broom. And though some garden shops may still sell broom, buying other shrubs is best to avoid any mix-ups.
Other than not bringing any more broom into the county, there are other ways to wage war against this noxious weed. The best way to battle broom is to pull the plants when they are still developing and while the soil is wet from winter rains, which prevents pulling the plant and leaving behind the root system. For those who miss the window to pull the broom, there is also the option of clipping it back throughout the spring and summer to prevent the plant from seeding.
What one wants to avoid doing in the war against broom is mowing the mature plants down. Not only does this invite the seeds to spread even farther and faster than the already far-reaching and fast plant—mowing may also make enough friction to spark a fire if one is not careful enough.
Local ecological groups are already fighting the broom invasion, including the Broom Busters of Old St. Hillary’s, a volunteer group with over 20 years of shrub-busting experience.
Broom Busters is holding yet another (registration required) Broom Busting event from 9am to noon on Saturday, Feb. 3. Reach out to them or other environmental agencies in Marin County to help in the battle of the broom.