It should be noted here that broom is capable of growing outside the sandhills as well, and creates many threats aside from changing soil qualities. As you read, keep in mind that there are not one or two broom plants, but thousands of individuals in the greater Mount Hermon area.
If you have not done so already, read Nitrogen and Soil part 1 to catch up on the information we will be discussing here.
The Santa Cruz Sandhills ecosystem is one with soil that is–you guessed it–primarily sand. While surrounded by Mixed-evergreen and Redwood forests with moderately ‘rich’ soils, the sandhills have little to no topsoil. The largest contiguous patches of sandhills and/or sandy soiled areas are around Ponderosa Lodge, up to the summit, and on adjoining properties such as the quarry, the county Juvenile Hall, and parts of Henry Cowell State Park. There are numerous smaller outcroppings around Mount Hermon though, in both private properties and along common areas such as trails and roadsides.
This exposed sand is very poor in most nutrients, and nitrogen is no exception. That said, there are a few native species which fix nitrogen:
- Silver Lupine (Lupinus albifrons)
- Miniature Lupine (Lupinus bicolor)
- California Broom/Deer Weed (Lotus scoparious)
*Two notes: 1) California Broom is native, and 2) the invasive French and Portuguese Broom are both members of the Fabaceae family.
- Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn) Family
- Buckbrush (Ceanothus cuneatus)
- Warty-leaf Ceanothus (Ceanothus sp.)
- California Wild Lilac/Blue Blossom (Ceanothus sp.)
*Please note that the Ceanothus species are not the same group as cultivated lilacs. The name reflects the similar appearance rather than a close relationship.
Sandhill fauna (plants) are adapted to low levels of nitrogen and other nutrients. Some is made available through the above species, and some is recycled as plants absorb it from decomposing matter of the previous years’ growth. Ultimately, the system is balanced-the amount of nitrogen that is in the sandhill ecosystem remains constant despite some coming in and other molecules exiting (usually through animal transport), and some of course will remain to be recycled.
Under normal conditions, woodland species can not grow in the sand hills for a variety of reasons, one being the extremely low levels of nutrients. Broom in the sandhills are what can best be termed a pioneer species, enabling plants or animals which could not otherwise survive in that area to do so.
Non-native species have been around in California (and indeed, everywhere that humans move) for decades, if not centuries. Some naturalize and become a functioning part of their new ecosystem. Others become invasive and wreak havoc-havoc that can even affect humans. Brooms are only one of dozens of non-native species, and they (like many other species) pose threats to both natural and human interests in the areas they affect.
Non-native brooms are a serious issue everywhere they grow, and Mount Hermon is no exception. The largest stand in Mount Hermon is above Ponderosa Lodge, between there and the summit. There are other stands however, many in sandy areas. These are areas of concern that, left unmaintained, will grow into serious problems.
Due to the porous nature and low nutrient levels of the sand (a large part of Mount Hermon is sandhill, or a similar sandy soil), the sandhills were long thought to be resilient against (significant) invasion by non-native species present in surrounding areas. Due in part to their ability to fix nitrogen, however, broom are capable of growing in the sandhills and in so doing create a number of issues–some of which are normally associated with invasive species, and some which are unique to the sandhills and local residents.
In addition to pushing out native species, creating a significant fire hazard, and upsetting existing ecological balances, broom problems such as: potentially threatening human water supply, causing extinction of several already rare species, and permanently changing the soil and inhabitants of an endangered ecosystem.
All of these topics are (or will be) discussed in great detail on this site and elsewhere, stay posted for updates!