No, I am not talking about spring housecleaning and sweeping out the detritus of life. I am talking about Scotch Broom (also called Scot’s Broom, Cytisus scoparius). Visitors to Washington State see this plant along the roadside and think its yellow, pea-like blossoms beautiful. It use to grow in clover leafs of the freeway, along many a state highway, in open fields and anywhere there is gravelly, open soil.
It is considered an invasive species by the state of Washington. The state has declared this and requires that we exterminate it. Why? It will take over vast areas of property which is not its primary problem. One of the main problems is many folks are susceptible to its pollen. The smell of the plant is somewhat sweet, but it wreaks havoc on the repertory passages giving sore throats for weeks and red eyes to those who are allergic or wear contact lenses.
At the moment my left eye is bright red from a grain of this needle enhanced pollen getting under a contact. It is uncomfortable. Many find it hard to breathe near the sites where it grows.
When folks come from out of state they extol the wonders of the plant. It is gorgeous! Fields of yellow with plants that can sometimes exceed ten feet in height. The fragrance is wonderful. Yes, you may think so now, but wait a few more hours when your eyes start to water and you feel like someone is standing on your chest.
The real dichotomy here is that the state which has declared this plant noxious and requires us to remove is its the greatest offender. It appears along the state highways of Western Washington rampant in its growth. The county removes it, we have group gatherings to remove it along country roads, yet the state highway which runs the length of my island is festooned with the plant. It is in its full glory now.
I am told that the seeds, which the plant can throw twenty or thirty feet, are viable for as long as thirty years, with some scientists claiming eighty. As the weather warms and the peapod-like seedpods mature, you will hear constant popping in these fields. The pod pops like popcorn and the seed is tossed into the air as both sides of the pod scroll back to send the seeds flying.
The state website tells us that “It displaces native and beneficial plants, causing loss of grassland and open forest. It aggressively spreads to form monocultures, replacing desirable forage grasses and young trees. Seeds are toxic to livestock and horses.”
Eradication is difficult. Pulling the plants with intact roots works temporarily. I have seen whole fields of the stuff poisoned and it is back the following year more vigorous than ever. Since the seeds can be viable for such long periods and remain dormant in the soil, they can pop up decades after eradication seemed complete. The only option is to pull any plants you see as soon as they immerge or before they produce seeds. Right now is the best time as they are readily identifiable by their blossoms. If you are out for a walk and spy this beast, nip it in the bud (so to speak). If you wait much longer, the seed pods will develop and the whole process will begin again though maybe eighty years down the road.
It may be beautiful, but those of us who live here find it noxious, even if the state highway department doesn’t.