A Brief History of Broom and Gorse in British Columbia

The broom (Cytisus scoparius) and gorse (Ulex europaeus) are invasive shrub plants that have been the subject of studies and eradication campaigns (see Brandes et. al. 2019; Rodriguez et. al. 2011; Leblank 2001; Syrett et. al. 1999; Zielke et. al. 1992; Frisk 1964;). Some people like their beautiful blooms but more people are concerned with their overwhelming of native species and the pain caused by the sharp spines of the gorse.

Figure 1. Broom (Cytisus scoparius)

Both species originated in the Mediterranean region of western Europe and have been introduced to other parts of the world where they compete successfully with native plants. Broom is suited to the mild maritime climate found on the coast of British Columbia.

These plants are a serious fire hazard. Scotch broom has a high oil content making it highly flammable. This is especially a problem where it grows in profusion along our highways where people throw cigarette butts.

More and more, broom is invading the edges of our forest creating fuel for fires. This invasive species changes the chemistry of the soil around it so that other plants can’t grow there. They eliminate native plant communities that birds, butterflies and other animals rely on for habitat. Broom is also toxic to some livestock, although goats love the fresh sprouts and can be used as a control measure in some regions.

Who Brought the Plants Here?

Many people have given their opinion as to who exactually brought the Scottish plants, Broom and Gorse, to the south end of Vancouver Island – a subject with differing views. Who were the people that would know about this from their personal connections in the 19th century and who is just copycatting what others said as being factual?

John Murray, who came to Victoria in 1849, writes about his reminiscences of broom on Beacon Hill in The Victoria Daily Colonist, on February 20,1896:

“Hill, did I say? No, only a brae. A green homelike brae, with moss covered rocks peeping out in places; and here and there, growing luxuriantly, a bunch of broom. I could hardly believe it at first, but there it was, the broom of the knowes and braes of hame. My heart beat faster as I looked at it, and handled it, and I went up the hill singing to myself. ’The broom, the bonny, bonny broom. The broom of Cowden knowes’ …

My friend Mr. W. J. [William Joseph] Mackay, of the Indian department, informs me that the whin plant was brought to Victoria by Mr. Douglas (Sir James), who procured it from a Scotchman in Oregon city in 1848; and the other variety, the gorse or broom, was brought by Captain Seaborough from the Sandwich islands in 1849.”

Joseph McKay had considerable experience in knowing the land and the people of the larger Victoria region from 1846 to 1858. He participated in local land surveys and in 1849 he was second in command at Fort Victoria. He was a fir trader, but was also involved in exploration, economic development, and farming. John Sebastian Helmcken remembered him in the early days as “a very active young fellow – full of vigor and intelligence,” who “knew everything and everybody” (Mackie 1990). He knew Walter Grant, John Muir and James Douglas.

John Robert Anderson (the son of Alexander C. Anderson of the Hudson’s Bay Company) wrote a letter to the Colonist on November 26, 1922, in reply to an article of November 21 by Walter W. Baer describing Beacon Hill in the 1850s. Anderson stated that: “At that time there was no Broom on Beacon Hill, and for years after only small patches appeared, it having been introduced by the late Robert Muir of Sooke, about 1850”. John Robert Anderson went to school at Fort Victoria as a youth in the 1840s and spent most of his later years in Victoria.

Giving a different opinion, newspaper reporter, Bruce A. McKelvie wrote in the Province on April 17, 1948: “Contrary to general opinion, it [Beacon Hill Park] was not wooded, and Robert Muir, of Sooke, had not brought the seed of the gorse and broom in from Sooke, to which place Capt. W. Colquhoun Grant had taken it to remind him of the hills of his native Scotland”. Captain Walter Colquhoun Grant (see Ireland 1953) is said to have planted seeds on his estate in Sooke, that he obtained from the British Consul in Hawaii. McKelvie was repeating the story of this event published in the Victoria Colonist on July 12, 1931

”During his visit to the Sandwich Islands in October 1850, the British Council gave him some broom seeds, which on his return he planted in front of his house. Later, when the Muirs bought the place, it was found that just three of the seeds had sprouted. The men of the family wanted to uproot the tiny bushes, but Mrs. Muir protested, wishing to retain the broom for sediments sake to remind her of Scotland. So the men stayed their hands.”

Figure 2. Gorse (Ulex europaeus)

How broom came to certain areas of the southern Interior of British Columbia may be revealed in correspondence between James Teit and Charles Newcome in 1914.

Teit wrote on September 18, 1914: “If you can manage it I would like you to send me two or three slips each of the Common Scotch broom and the other kind you have.” On Nov 2, 1914 Newcombe had sent him the plants: “Thanks for the plants of broom which arrived here in No. 1 shape. I am doubtful if they will thrive in this climate and soils but I will give them a trail. I planted them out in three different places having different soils.


We may have a situation where there were multiple introductions of the plants in the 1840s. The focus today, should, of course, not be who brought them first, but how to reduce the spread of the plants, get rid of them in at least some of locations, and drastically reduce them in others. As my friend and colleague Dr. Richard Hebda said many times, years ago, in a fake Glaswegian accent – “There’s No Room for Broom”.


Brandes, Ursula, Beate Beatriz FurevikLene Rostgaard NielsenErik Dahl KjærLine RosefSiri Fjellheim. 2019. Introduction history and population genetics of intracontinental scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) invasion. Journal of Conservation Biogeography. Diversity and Distributions Volume 25, Issue 11

Frick, Kenneth E. Leucoptera spartifoliella, an Introduced Enemy of Scotch Broom in the Western United States. Journal of Economic Entomology, Volume 57, Issue 4, 1 August 1964, Pages 589–591,

Ireland, Willard E. Captain Walter Coquhoun Grant. Vancouver Island’s First independent Settler. British Columbia Historical quarterly. 17(no. 1 &2):87-125.

Leblanc, John W. 2001. Getting a Handle on Broom Scotch, French, Spanish, and Portuguese Brooms in California. University of California Cooperative Extension Program Representative, El Dorado County. UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA Agriculture and Natural Resources. Publication 8048.

Mackie, Richard. 1990. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. William Joseph McKay.

McKelvie, Bruce A. 1948. Glamor Comes to Beacon Hill. The Province, April 17, 1948.

Murry, John, 1896. Reminiscences of a Pioneer – Victoria as She appeared on His First Arrival. Victoria Daily Colonist, February 20, 1896.

Rodriguez, Eric. Begona Peco and M. Pilar Currea. 2011. Effect of Scotch broom, Cytisus scoparius, pod size and patch density on Exapion fuscirostre (Coleoptera, Apionidae) seed weevil oviposition. Australian Journal of Entomology, Nov. 21, 2011

Syrett, P., S. V. Fowler, E. M. Coombs, J. R. Hosking, G. P. Markin5, Q. E. Paynter6 and A. W. Sheppard. The potential for biological control of Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) (Fabaceae) and related weedy species. Biocontrol News and Information 1999 Vol. 20 No. 1 17N–34N.

Ward, Robin. 1996. Echoes of Empire. Victoria and its Remarkable Buildings. Harbour Publishing. Madeira Park, BC.

Zielke, Ken, Jacob O. Boateng, Norm Caldicott and Heather Williams. 1992. Broom and Gorse in British Columiba. A Forestry Perspective Problem Analysis.Ministry of Foorests, Siviculture Branch, Victoria.

Author: Grant Keddie

Curator of Archaeology, Royal British Columbia Museum, 1972-2022,