Thursday, 6 June 2013

Bright Blows the Broom

When wilt thou, thou bonnie bush o' broom.
Grow on a foreign strand ?
That I may think when I look on thee
I'm still in loved Scotland.

But ah ! that thought can never more be mine,
Though thou beside me sprang ;
Nor though the lintie, Scotia's bird,
Should follow wi its sang.

O thou bonnie, bonnie broom !

Thus did songwriter Robert Gilfillan sum up his love of this flower, a year before he died. Broom (Cytisus scoparius; Gaelic: bealaidh) is as emblematic of Scotland as heather. Like that other heath it’s the blazing cry of spring itself, setting whole hillsides afire and burning off the dreakie humours of winter. And like the other, broom dyes Scotlands' famous yard goods, flavours Scotland's famous ales, and holds a hero's place in her folklore. A broom of broom is believed to sweep away bad luck, and in times past, a thorough housecleaning with such a one was a rite of spring.

Here on the North Coast this scrappy wee didgie has taken our own countryside by force of arms, turning much of it to Ullapool this time of year. In British Columbia the culprit is said to be one Captain Walter Grant, British Army, who planted two shrubs either side his Vancouver Island door in 1850. (Coincidentally the year of Gilfillan's death, having perhaps nothing more to say.) But I've heard equally specific charges against another Scot in Washington. Fact is, broom was well-established in the east of this continent when we got here, so the likelihood that every plant on the coast descends from a single (and intentional) introduction is not great.

However it arrived, broom is hated here, with a passion not inflicted on other, less beautiful, invaders. There is certainly little enough reason to celebrate; it crowds out native species, contributes little to the soil, and is mostly worthless to our wildlife. As if that weren't enough, horses get drunk on the tender tops and stop caring about riders' commands. And much of our dry forest and gravelly prairies, the best riding terrain, is infested with it. Broom is also fingered for exacerbating hay fever, though experts say that's bosh.

From birth I've had a reflexive love of outlaw flowers; if they're Scottish too, it ferments into fanaticism. Thus I celebrate the great busting-out of this flag of my fathers. I love the look of the stuff, and the end-of-school smell of it; I'll often stuff a great armload in a vase and smack it bang on my table, to the horror and contempt of fellow North Coasters.

So to all those not fortunate to share my genes, let me assure you that I'm not alone, just far from home. Not for naet have Scotland's greatest poets bent their art to this beautiful bush. By way of proof, I offer the following hymn, penned by Traveller writer Betsy Whyte. For the rest, I'll just say I agree with every word.

After all, we're all Travellers, whether we've courage to live it or not.

Several of the "broom" images in this video are actually gorse [Genus Ulex], an evil, malevolent weed entirely unworthy of the confusion. And at least one other is heather [Calluna vulgaris]. Don't hold either against Ms. Whyte or the noble Cytisus, nor indeed The McCalmans; none of whom were consulted.

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