Jan 12 2011

Winter Weeds: Broom Sedge

Published by at 7:39 am under Winter Weeds & Trees


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)

3 responses so far

3 Responses to “Winter Weeds: Broom Sedge”

  1. Markon 18 Jan 2011 at 6:07 am

    Nice! One of my favorite winter weeds. Loree and I saw a similar species about a week ago – Little bluestem (http://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_scsc.pdf).

  2. kellyon 18 Jan 2011 at 10:26 am

    this plant inhabits a dune section i frequent at the jersey shore. i suppose that sand qualifies as poor soil. i have noticed over the years that the american tree sparrows especially appreciate the seeds come mid-winter. it is fun to watch them balance and eat ever so athletically and gracefully as the limbs bend with their weight and sway in the wind. the song sparrows also seem to favor broom sedge.
    thanks for making the i.d.

  3. Marcy Con 20 Jan 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I watched Juncos today, parachuting down on the stems and eating the seeds while the snow was coming down…haven’t seen that happen before on this grass.

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