Spanish broom (Spartium junceum) has pea-like flowers as described in my previous post (“Pea Flower Arrangement” 11-20-17). Spanish broom is the only species in its genus, Spartium, but is closely related to French and Scotch brooms and gorse.
Native to Northern Africa, Europe and Western Asia, Spanish broom was first introduced into California as an ornamental in 1848 and has since spread and naturalized throughout Oregon, Washington, California and Texas. Its ecology is sunny, open sites and disturbed areas, usually in dry, sandy soils. Spanish broom is not as widely distributed as the other brooms or gorse yet where established can choke out native species and form large, dense stands. For this reason, Spanish broom is classified as a noxious weed in many areas.
Spanish broom is a perennial shrub with rushlike, round, green stems that can grow up to 13 feet in height and are leafless most of the year. The majority of Spanish broom photosynthesis occurs in the stems.
The deciduous leaves of Spanish broom are alternate and lance-shaped. Sparse and small, the leaves are smooth on top and hairy on the underside.
The Spanish broom inflorescence is a cluster of flowers at the end of stems. The flowers are pea-like, yellow and fragrant and occur profusely over the shrub.
Spanish broom fruits are hairy, flat seedpods maturing black. As the two halves of the seedpods dry they warp in different directions eventually snapping apart and with an audible crack releasing the 10 to 15 seeds.
Spanish broom, like most members of Fabaceae, fixes nitrogen on root nodules.
Historically fiber from Spanish broom stems was used as a hemp substitute for thread, cordage and course fabrics. The small, younger stems were used in basket making. Another colloquial name, weaver’s broom, probably refers to these applications. A yellow dye can be made from the flowers. An oil from Spanish broom flowers is also employed in the perfume industry.
Among other medicinal uses, herbalists employ Spanish broom as a diuretic and cardiac stimulant. However, because Spanish broom contains toxic alkaloids that can depress the heart and nervous system and cause renal irritation as well as vomiting and purging, extreme caution must be employed when using Spanish broom internally.
“Broom” derives from the Anglo-Saxon word “brom” which means “foliage” and was applied to shrubs whose twigs were used for making brooms. The genus name, Spartium, is from the Greek and means broom. The specific epithet, junceum, means rush-like in Latin and refers to Spanish broom stem shape.
These Spanish broom plants were photographed in May along Flannigan Road in Redding CA (Shasta County) near the Flannigan Trailhead.