Grade 10 science classes at G.P. Vanier Secondary, as a real-life application of their Ecology study unit, took to their school grounds last week with gloves, loppers, and sunscreen to remove Scotch broom.
Broom is an invasive species. Originally introduced to North America as an ornamental plant, broom was brought to the Sooke area in the 1850s and since then it has spread rapidly.
In Europe, where broom originated, there are insects that prey on the broom plants, but since North America is not its native habitat, broom grows uncontrollably on Vancouver Island without anything to stop it.
Broom threatens our natural ecosystems by outcompeting and choking out native species. It can also prevent reforestation, is a fire hazard, and is toxic to animals and the soil.
Over 70 students at G.P. Vanier, working over a two-day period, made a significant contribution to the broom control effort by removing the majority of broom plants from their school grounds and from a neighbouring section of Towhee Creek.
The local chapter of the BroomBusters organization loaned loppers and saws and provided instruction on how to cut broom. Timing was key and the students cut the broom while it was in bloom and before it had formed seed pods. They were careful to cut the broom at ground level, below any side shoots, to minimize the chance of it growing back.
In some cases, the students had to brave their way through a lot of blackberry to get to the broom, or tenaciously saw through very large broom “trees” over 10 feet tall!
Student participant Justin Doig commented that, “Removing the broom is a very rewarding process because it poisons our soil and doesn’t allow native plants to grow.”
“It’s been exciting to see the students taking their knowledge of invasive species from the classroom and applying it to the betterment of their local community and ecosystem,” said sponsor teacher Kate Peatfield. “They’ve worked really hard to make a difference.”
Ideally, the students would like to see the stream areas they cleared replanted with native plant species. This would provide habitat for native animals and shade that would deter the regrowth of the broom.
The students would like to encourage others to join the effort to get rid of broom in the Comox Valley, as they recognize that controlling this species will require the work of many people in the community. BroomBusters hosts many broom cutting events (www.broombusters.org), but private landowners can also help by removing broom from their own properties right now while the plants are in their weakest state.
Every broom plant can produce thousands of seeds, which are easily dispersed, so removal of existing plants in bloom is important.
— G.P. Vanier Secondary School