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Invasives: Enemies or Allies?

By Alison Leigh Lilly

[Snip] When I first moved to Seattle, I was enchanted by this lovely plant. Modestly nondescript during the first few wintery, rainy months I’d spent in the city, this evergreen shrub suddenly revealed itself with the warming spring weather, a fresh reminder of bright summery days to come. It seemed to be everywhere.

In fact, that was exactly the problem. This plant — Cytisus scoparius, commonly known as Scotch broom — was originally a native of western and central Europe, first introduced to the pacific coast of North America in the mid-1800s as a garden ornamental. But despite its delicate appearance, Scotch broom is a survivor, embodying the same hardy, pioneering spirit as those early settlers who brought it to the sunny coasts of California. Able to establish itself in disturbed and nutrient-deficient soils, it often outcompetes other native plants of the Pacific Northwest, spreading quickly to dominate the landscape. A single plant can live for 20 years, its growth limited only by low temperature or drought, each year producing more than 12,000 seeds which can lie dormant in the soil for up to 30 years before germinating. Give Scotch broom an inch, and soon you’ll have miles of its dense stands invading the landscape, elbowing out natives like snowberry, currants and woods rose, smothering the seedlings of red alder and douglas fir, preventing reforestation and greatly reducing biodiversity.

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