Article

Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius)

Scotch broom is an invasive, evergreen shrub that was brought to North America as an ornamental garden plant. It escaped.

Many of us love to garden… I do! And many of us grow some perennials that would be considered invasive. We often end up hating these plants because they take over and become a nightmare to control… we wish we had never planted them! The bigger problem is when those invasives escape from our yards into natural areas. They can dramatically change the ecosystem in a negative way.

So far, Scotch broom has a very limited distribution on PEI and we only know of a few of locations where it can be found outside of people’s yards.

How do you identify Scotch broom?

  • - it can get up to 3m tall but is often shorter than that
  • - it has bright yellow flowers, pea-like flowers
  • - it has small leaves. Leaves nearer the base of the stems have short stalks and 3 leaflets. Leaves near on the upper portion of the stem have not leaflets.
  • - its stems are woody and quite grooved
  • - it has hairy, flat pea-like pods that turn black when mature. These pods when they dry, split open and can fling seed up to 5m away!

Scotch broom loves the sun and is very drought tolerant. It will grow in a wide variety of habitats such as disturbed areas or sandy areas, ditches, meadows, fields and our yards. Interestingly, Scotch broom takes nitrogen from the air and “fixes it” in the soil. Since nitrogen is a nutrient that is necessary for plant growth, this allows Scotch broom to grow in very nutrient deficient soils where many other plants could not.

Some of the concerns about Scotch broom is that it is very flammable so dense thickets of it can be a fire hazard. It also displaces native plants and wildlife and can reduces crop values.

Since there is a limited amount of Scotch broom on the Island, this is one invasive that could potentially be eradicated. Any sightings of Scotch broom, outside of people’s yards and gardens, would be extremely important in determining the actual distribution of Scotch broom on the Island.

If you want to get rid of Scotch broom you can dig it up. This is very labor intensive but if you have a small patch, can be effective. Try to get as many of the roots as possible. You will have to check back often to see if there is any regrowth from the roots or any seed germination. You can also cut Scotch broom down. This would have to be done repeatedly or in combination with covering. Scotch broom does not like shade so it should die after a couple of year of being covered with a material that blocks the sun.

Then there is always the task of getting rid of the plants that have been removed. IWMC will pick up invasive plants that you remove. Just put them in a clear plastic bag labelled “invasive plants” and place it by your waste bin. If you have a lot of plants (more than ½ a ton), you will need a permit from the Department of the Environment so you can transport the plant material to a disposal facility.

What’s in your yard?

- Beth Hoar, Chair, PEIISC