SciSun: Clean Sweep   Leave a comment


Remember those invasive weeds that only a team of highly-trained sheep and goats can remove utilizing specialized counter-offensive equipment and coordinated attack skills? Well, really all they do is walk around and eat whatever plants they can find, but to weeds that think they can take over any old field and roadside they want, a herd of goats is probably the thing of nightmares. And if the plants actually do have nightmares, we’ve probably got a bigger problem than we thought.


In this war of plants vs herbivores (Note to self: GAME IDEA!!), many of these non-native plants found themselves transported to new locations by wind or riding on the fur of an animal or mistakenly packed away inside grain, hay, or cargo. Others, however, were purposely re-located because well-meaning people thought the plants had pretty flowers or filled in an area or had other unique properties that local plants just didn’t fit. If man can improve the job that nature’s been working on for millions of years, they thought, what could go wrong?


Today, species of Scotch; Spanish; and French Broom (Cytisus sp.) – plants which don’t look like brooms, themselves, but when the stems are dried have been made into brooms by generations of industrious villagers – are crowding out native plants and moving into the area of Yosemite National Park. While the broom plants have lovely yellow flowers, a spicy-sweet smell and generally add to the picturesque woodland meadow view, in fact they are vigorous and aggressive invaders threatening native species; displacing birds and other animals that rely on native landscapes; altering the soil chemistry that makes it harder (almost impossible) for native plants to re-establish themselves, changes which eventually destroy native ecosystems; and increasing fire load, the amount of plant material available that can fuel a forest fire. The brooms only grow and flower a few years before they die, leaving dry, woody remnants (the ‘broom’ part) that catch fire with the slightest flame, and stay hot and slowly burning for a long time. And while humans have found uses for these questionable plants (they’re not bad plants; they just do bad things); racoons and bears and porcupines and other wildlife have gotten along just fine without sweeping up anything. Although some of their houses really could use a good cleaning.

When Winkle the Goat was accepted into the National Park Service junior ranger intern program, he didn't realize it would include a daily buffet.

When Winkle the Goat was accepted into the National Park Service junior ranger intern program, he didn’t realize it would include a daily buffet.


So this Spring, scores of volunteers, researchers, scientists and goats (who actually can’t be considered volunteers. Probably more like interns), are working to sweep clear the areas most heavily-threatened with these invasive brooms, along with other non-native plants, before the unwanted species succeed in altering the natural landscape. In fact, recently four flowers native to the West have been added to the review process toward Endangered Species protection. These unique plants, threatened by development, off-road vehicles, and yes, invasive species, include Webber’s ivesia (Ivesia webberi), a rare desert rose that only grows in soils that take 1000 years to form. Currently only 16 populations of the rose can be found, widely spread throughout portions of California and Nevada. Still, many people continue to grow broom and other non-native plants in backyards, parks, and landscaping. While this may seem harmless and even beneficial (one plant is just as good as another, isn’t it?), the brooms have evolved a unique ‘spring loaded’ seed dispersal system that catapults pods with a tiny explosion flinging the seeds tens of feet away, continually expanding the species range. This could also make a fun game of catch, if you knew exactly when the little seeds would start flying around and you didn’t mind waiting.


While nature may seem slow and steady, it’s continually growing, changing, and evolving in spite of – or sometimes because of – the actions of mankind. Whether we choose to protect and preserve our native plants and unique environments; or allow invasives to one day replace native species and change our landscape forever; every decision and action we take could result in an environment that’s a clean sweep.




Michonne Says: Those yellowy flowers smell good but don’t try to eat them! The sticks are all prickly and the stems are all stickly. It’s like licking a prickly-pine. If anyone ever wanted to lick a prickly-pine, that is. But I wouldn’t recommend it.



Posted April 13, 2014 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

Tagged with , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: