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Getting outdoors . . . See nature at its wildest!

Sandra Chafin Special to The Star
The Star

Trails in the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve vary in length. They also differ greatly in soils, trees, and ease of traveling. Broomsedge – that’s broom-sedge, not brooms-edge, Road is only 0.74 miles long when you leave Treasure Road until you intersect with Sandridge Road. Just a nice walk in the Preserve.

Now – do you know your Andropagon Virginicus? You guessed it; a common name is Broomsedge. There’s Broomsedge, yellow bluestem, Virginia bluestem, broom grass, broom sage, sage brush, or whiskey grass.

It’s found in the eastern portion of the United States growing in open areas. Broomsedge grows in many different types of soils, however, its favorite is sandy, loose, moist sites. It is a shallow rooted plant. No matter the name, or where it is found growing, it indicates there is poor soil. Broomsedge thrives in those conditions considered poor quality for the most desirable grass species.

The Zebulon Skipper Butterfly uses Broomsedge as a larval host. Broomsedge is used as an ornamental plant in yards, golf courses and the like because its water requirement is low.

Wildlife on the Preserve love the Broomsedge especially in winter when other food sources are limited or non-existent. Ground nesting birds, such as turkey or quail, use Broomsedge as ground cover.

Oddly enough, Broomsedge is not a sedge at all. It’s really a grass in the same genus as bluestem. Another oddity is that we could not get a good picture of it on Broomsedge Road. Sandridge, next to Broomsedge had some growing so what you see in picture is on Sandridge.

Its name comes from the fact that it made a passable broom for the pioneer homesteaders. They would gather several handfuls harvested after the first frost, then tie tightly around a stout stick, trim to the length desired, and have a broom that was serviceable for their needs.

Broomsedge bluestem is a native grass making it a hardy grass which will do well in drought conditions. It becomes a very persistent grass after establishing itself. Being a native grass makes it very hardy in relation to environmental matters.

As a benefit to the environment and used as an ornamental grass Broomsedge is an attractive grass growing in clumps.

Its value for wildlife is that it is a good ground cover, provides nesting materials, seed food for birds and a good graze for deer. It attracts birds, butterflies and deer. Broomsedge also provides nesting materials and structure for Native Bees. That value to beneficial insects makes it an important grass.

You don’t want to confuse Broomsedge with broom sage. Broom sage is a shrub, not a grass, and it grows out west. If you have read any Louis L’Amour books you might recognize Broom sage from his writings.

Research tells us Native Americans brewed a tea from the roots of Broomsedge. They drank this each day for backaches. They washed wounds, sores, and rashes with it. They used Broomsedge tea and bundles in many ways. In pioneer times the main use for Broomsedge . . . brooms. Stalks were harvested, bound into bundles and used to sweep early homes and cabins.

In landscape uses Broomsedge is a useful grass for erosion control, rain gardens and stormwater management. Andropagon Virginicus provides fall color and winter interest.

While it is a native grass for the eastern US, in California, Hawaii, Japan and Australia Broomsedge is an introduced invasive species. It got the name “Whiskey Grass” in Australia because it was used as a packing material for American whiskey, was dispensed in the environment and it established itself.

Interesting fact: This grass is allelopathic, which means it excretes chemicals that prohibits growth in shrubs and plants around it. Therefore, it can take root and maintain itself in large populations.

As you travel on Broomsedge Road your first impression is one of beauty depending on the time of the year you are observing. Broomsedge leaves are medium green and stand at attention from its clump. In fall and winter its foliage turns a lovely golden orange. A field of Broomsedge is quite spectacular on a late winter afternoon as it turns partly glowing coppery foliage towards the sun and has silvery hairs that reflect the sunlight.

Broomsedge pictured for this article is in fact on Sandridge Road. Hiking Broomsedge and Sandridge Roads are advantageous in different seasons throughout the year as the changes are quite noticeable and are quite a spectacle.

Buffer Preserve Manager, Dylan Shoemaker, encourages everyone to come out and try the different trails all year. “You will improve your health by walking, hiking, or biking and you will develop a sense of importance in preserving the natural environment. We are seeing more new faces in the Preserve and we love it!”

Trails are open from sun-up to sundown. There is one gate on SR30-A (Main Gate) and 2 gates on CR 30-A (South Gate and Island Gate). The Troy Deal Tract is located on SR 30-E. Trail maps at each site will guide you. Enjoying nature is a great thing in so many ways --- for a body!