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April 07, 2004

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Publication Date: Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Invasion of beauty: Broom is a threat Invasion of beauty: Broom is a threat (April 07, 2004)

By Nancy Jamison
Special to the Almanac

Driving up Highway 84 provides a corridor of bright fall yellow. However, this is spring, and this brightness isn't from turning leaves. Out of place, this invasion of beauty was absent 10 years ago, but is now a dominant component of a once primarily green spring awakening in the hills.

As one of the most invasive non-native plants in California, broom (French, Scotch or Spanish) is a prolific, non-native weed that has spread from Canada to San Diego, indiscriminate in its march through forest, hillside or suburban backyard. Indeed, it can now even be seen on the Embarcadero/101 overpass, less than a mile from the Bay.

Most people don't know what broom is. On March 13, Portola Valley had a "broom pull," advertised weeks in advance by a prominent banner near Town Center. The "pull" was a success, but when asked afterward, numerous residents did not know what a broom pull was.

Many think that broom is just a pretty plant, and haven't pulled or won't pull it out because they either like it, feel it is providing a screen for their property, or anchoring soil on a steep hillside.

While pretty, broom is a menace. Plants grow a single deep tap root, sucking up water from nearby vegetation. Stands can be 15 feet high, eliminating sunlight to plants below, crowding out native plants, some of which are endangered, and threatening the wildlife that depend upon them.

The biodiversity of the Santa Cruz Mountains and surrounding areas is being threatened by broom, particularly French broom, and several other equally tenacious plants, including yellow starthistle and German ivy.

Broom, in particular, is a profligate producer of seeds, with up to 18,000 being produced in pods on a single mature plant; these seeds may not germinate for years or decades. Additionally, stands of broom are a fire hazard, harboring an abundance of deadwood and flame-feeding resin.

How to get rid of it? While large-scale techniques may involve goats or pesticides, the average individual or property owner had better just pull. Pull any seedling you can see; it's easy when the ground is damp. For bigger plants, cut them back, and paint the stumps with Roundup to kill the base.

"These are the two best ways," said Ronald Pummer, deputy agricultural commissioner for San Mateo County.

And do it again next year. Timing and diligence are key, as it will be back.

The wonderful area we live in needs your help. In addition to eliminating broom in your yard, volunteer at events such as those in Portola Valley, or just pull broom out when you see it on a roadside or during a hike, for example.

For more information or to volunteer, you can do an online search on broom, or contact the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District at 650-691-0485 (; the San Francisquito Creek Watershed Council at 962-9876, ext. 305; or the San Mateo Weed Management Area at 363-4700.

Nancy Jamison is a writer who lives in Woodside with her husband and twins.

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