Jan 12 2011
I’m sure you’ve seen this copper-colored grass before. It’s a distinctive plant in winter fields but unremarkable the rest of the year.
Broom sedge (Adropogon virginicus) is a native, perennial, warm season grass that’s half misnamed. It’s not a sedge — it’s a bluestem grass – but early settlers did use its winter stems to make brooms.
The stems stand two to four feet tall in clumps in overgrazed fields and poor soil. You’ll find them easily in open areas where they remain standing throughout the winter, even in livestock fields, because the mature plant is too tough for cattle and wildlife to eat.
Broom sedge is one of the first plants to grow in bare earth and can invade an area and maintain its grip because it produces chemicals that suppress the growth of competing species. Thankfully, it doesn’t do well in fertile soil and is crowded out by “better” plants in less than ten years.
Look closely at its stems and you’ll see its hairy seeds that disperse in the wind. These seeds are food for small birds and rodents who also find the clumps a convenient shelter. That’s why you’re likely to see a raptor hunting the fields where broom sedge grows thickly.
So now you know a secret to impress your friends: When you see broom sedge growing, you know the soil is poor.
(photo by Dianne Machesney)