Charla Huber: Scotch broom, i’ve got your back

Like a lot of people, I like rooting for the underdog.

It’s nice to hear a rags-to-riches story or see the darkhorse player score the winning goal. But whenever I stick up for Scotch broom, I feel like I’ve become the black sheep.

People are attempting a mass genocide of this plant. I feel they are hopping on the “kill the broom” lynch mob.

Sure it’s invasive, but the vast majority of people are invasive. I am from Alberta (and half First Nations, half Swedish), so I too am invasive.

When we build houses and roads, we are taking up space that would have been used by other species native to the land. But as Metchosin environmentalist and councillor Moralea Milne points out, people can be reasoned with, and broom cannot.

For most of my arguments, Milne voices an opposition that trumps my point. If I’d say, “broom is a nitrogen fixer,” she’d answer, “Well that’s a good thing in the garden, but not when other plants have already adapted to the soil.”

Milne one, Huber zero.

Continuing on, Milne explains that broom shades out other plants, it’s drought-resistant and tolerant of the hot sun.

Both of us can agree it’s one tough bugger. “It doesn’t have the predators that would keep it in check,” Milne says.

She explains the predators it’s lacking could be insects or fungus, but I prefer to think of a broom-eating werewolf somewhere in the world.

I picture in my head these brave little seeds travelling across the ocean to escape the wrath of their predator.

But I know they didn’t plan a great escape, they were brought here in the coat pocket of a ship’s captain more than 150 years ago.

As a journalist I know when those little yellow flowers pop out to say hello, I’ll be writing about broom eradication. And that’s fine. Many people devote a lot of time to the cause. I respect their enthusiasm.

But for the past couple of years, something has boggled my mind. At good old-fashioned broom pulls, people don’t pull the plants out anymore, they just cut them off at the soil, keeping the roots in the ground. I’ve also talked to groups who cut the plants after the seeds fall each year. The seeds can stay dormant for decades. In my mind that’s similar to putting a bed sheet over an elephant and saying the problem is gone.

Once again Milne steps up to bat and hits a homer out of the park.

“When you pull a plant out you are turning up the soil as you pull, that brings the seed bank up to ideal growing conditions,” she says, explaining if you cut a broom plant with a thick stem at the soil, most likely it won’t grow back.

I enjoy vegetable gardening in the spring and summer. I’ve even dabbled a little in winter gardening, too. I have a hard time pulling weeds in my plot and think to myself, ‘Who I am I to remove this weed?’ Often I let them stay.

While I have compassion for broom, Milne’s points are hard to ignore.

“The broom plant might be where 100 other plants once were. Those different plants could be in bloom all year long,” Milne says.

She continues her argument by stating many insects would eat those 100 plants. The insects would be eaten by other bugs, and so on.

“You don’t want to look at just one tree or one plant, you have to look at the ecosystem.”

When I state that broom has a right to exist, Milne replies, “Then you are sacrificing hundreds and thousands of species for one.”

The one thing Milne and I can agree on is that it’s not the broom’s fault it’s here – broom is getting punished due to other people’s actions.

Charla Huber is a reporter for the Goldstream News Gazette.

reporter@goldstreamgazette.com

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