Broomsedge is a native grass indicative of infertile soils


We know we are approaching fall when we begin noticing clumps of tall fluffy grass called broomsedge (Andropogon virginicus). It’s not really a sedge at all. It’s a warm-season perennial grass.

Some folks call it broom sage, which is incorrect. There is a plant called broom sage that is common in California and Arizona. Strangely, it’s not actually a sage. It’s in the aster

family. Another name for it is scale broom.

When the name broomsedge is mentioned, livestock farmers scowl. Seeing broomsedge in a field means that the soil is probably acidic and infertile. Likely, the pastures have also been overgrazed. In short, land management hasn’t been the greatest.

The result is that this prairie grass is also wasting space that could be utilized by grasses animals like. Most livestock won’t eat broomsedge. Even if they did, it has little nutritional value, especially when mature.

Fertilizing pastures and liming the soil makes other desirable grasses more competitive. Addressing the soil alone won’t take care of the problem.

Broomsedge will still grow under more fertile conditions, so it must be removed. Plants are shallow rooted, so removing them manually isn’t a problem if numbers are small.

Killing broomsedge with herbicides is difficult, and the chemicals often injure or kill desirable species. This is less of a problem in cool-season grasses and legumes like clovers. Stands can be killed with a non-selective chemical like Round-up and then immediately planted with cool-season species.

Broomsedge is a warm-season grass and it doesn’t begin growing until early summer. At that time, it’s too late to plant cool-season grasses or clovers.

Keeping a thick stand of desirable forages can crowd it out. However, soil nutrients, especially phosphorus must be in good supply. Broomsedge will creep into thin places, so overseeding is usually necessary.

Cattle farmers abhor broomsedge, but many others see its benefits. It’s a great conservation grass, because it requires no management. In fact, it grows better on marginal land. It often is the only thing that will grow on strip-mine soils. Without it, erosion would be a major problem in these places.

This range grass is an important species for many nesting birds. It also provides great fall cover for grouse and quail. Plants produce lots of seed, but it’s not a major food source for birds.

Many people like the way it looks, especially when it’s in flower. There are even ornamental cultivars available and they perform well without additional water or fertilizer. Its upright growth habit makes a striking contrast in many perennial gardens. Also, as one might expect, broomsedge is not subject to deer damage.

Broomsedge originally got its name because people used its long stiff stems to make brooms. These sturdy stems make great dried material for floral arrangements too.

Broomsedge has no foraging value for humans. Herbalists have used extracts from the roots to treat back aches. Leaf teas have been used to treat diarrhea and these teas can be used topically to treat minor skin irritations. However, this grass is not a major player among medicinal herbs.

Clump of broomsedge spot killed with glyphosate

 

Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.

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About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I now teach agriculture to high school students at Northeastern High School in Elizabeth City, NC. My wife teaches with me and we make a great team. I also write a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper (dailyadvance.com). I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that I plan to publish eventually. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone, a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. Never Alone is now available in paperback, Kindle and Nook. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death. In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books.
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3 Responses to Broomsedge is a native grass indicative of infertile soils

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Ornamental cultivars? That sort of makes me wonder. There are ornamental cultivars of pampas grass too, but that does not make it right. (They are sterile only because they are all female. However, they can be pollinated by the invasive species, and their hybrids are not sterile.)

    • tedmanzer says:

      Yes, that’s how the ornamental pears got going. The original ones were self-sterile, but once more genotypes were introduced the problem started and it is really bad in the east. Ornamental pears are cheap and a horrible choice for hurricane-prone areas.

      • tonytomeo says:

        Oh, I would not have considered hurricanes! They are bad enough here, and we do not have strong wind. They are not invasive, and I do happen to like them for autumn color, but the innate structural deficiency is a problem.

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