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Inspired by the service legacy of Martin Luther King, volunteer invasive species battlers came to Westwood Hills Park on Monday to make a clean sweep of French broom.

The Westwood Hills Park event was one of 24 MLK Day of Service events in Napa County. MLK Day of Service is organized annually by a coalition of nonprofit groups, religious groups and service organizations.

French broom is a problem plant in disguise. It doesn’t have thorns or other noxious features that might spur people at first sight to vow eradication. Rather, it has sweat pea-like yellow flowers when in bloom.

“It’s actually a pretty plant,” said Chino Yip of the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District.

“It’s a charming little weed,” city Park Ranger Lauren Kober said.

That’s one reason why this native of the mid-Atlantic Azores islands and Mediterranean region is present in California. A U.S. Forest Service report said people probably brought it to the Bay Area in the mid-1800s as an ornamental plant.

But the city of Napa wants French broom removed from its 106-acre hiking park near Browns Valley. Helping out on Monday were dozens of volunteers participating in a Martin Luther King Day event that amounted to a two-and-a-half hour weeding session.

“It’s taking over habitat that’s used by native wildlife and creates a more weedy habitat,” said volunteer Chip Bouril of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “It grows into an impenetrable thicket.”

Those thickets are as tall as a person along some park trails. Yip said hikers might find themselves facing “the Indiana Jones” experience of fighting through a mass of vegetation.

Plus, Bouril said, thick stands of French broom increase fire danger.

Yip has no illusions that Westwood Hills Park is going to be French broom-free anytime soon. He wants to manage the invader and keep it at bay. That means pulling it out by the roots, one plant at a time.

Amy Garden of St. Helena was among the volunteers who came to give French broom the brush-off. She’s pulled the weed before at the county’s Moore Creek Park and knows the challenges of eradicating it.

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“You’ve got to have many hands,” she said. “The more people you have, the better the chances.”

How hard the job is depends on the soil, Garden said. Pulling French broom in the worst conditions can be like pulling something out of concrete.

Fortunately for the Westwood volunteers, recent rain left the soil moist and made the French broom battle much easier.

Volunteer Marie Hughes came with her 4-year-old son Iason because she likes to hike at Westwood Hills Park. She’d seen the French broom along the trails.

“I didn’t know what it’s called,” Hughes said. “It’s actually kind of pretty.”

She and other volunteers tried to make a dent in a vast stand of French broom along an offshoot of the main hiking trail. Now she knows about the challenge the plant poses at the park.

“I’m going to look at it a little differently from now on,” she said.


Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He was worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield. He is a graduate of UC Sa