Earth lovers weed San Bruno Mountain: Brisbane residents celebrate Earth Day by plucking non-native plants

Publisher: San Mateo County Times
Reporter: David Burger

BRISBANE -- French broom, a plant with yellow foliage, got its name because its branches were once cut and made into brooms.

But hundreds of French broom plants were on the opposite end of a spring cleaning on Saturday, as they were removed from San Bruno Mountain by more than 70 Brisbane residents celebrating Earth Day.

"French broom is an invasive species," said Brisbane Mayor Michael Barnes. "The city needs to manage this land so that the community is protected from fire danger and indigenous species are protected from extinction."

The city held its first San Bruno Mountain Habitat Restoration Day on Saturday to coincide with the 34th anniversary of Earth Day.

In recent years, Brisbane has bought more than 20 acres of undeveloped land on the mountain. The city learned that non-native plants were destroying the ecosystem on the slopes and surrounding valleys of the mountain.

"It's incumbent on us to protect our public lands," said Lisa Pontecorvo, Open Space and Ecology Analyst for Brisbane. "And we also want to promote the concept of community stewardship and give a sense of ownership."

Scout troops, school groups and other residents of the area set their sights primarily on removing French broom, a bushy plant that can grow up to eight feet tall. Because it is spring, the legume plant is easily identified by its small pea-like yellow flowers that bloom along the stem in twos and threes between April and June.

"French broom is the official flower of Brisbane, because it's everywhere, unfortunately," said Doug Allshouse, President of Friends of San Bruno Mountain. "Ecologically, the mountain is in a lot of trouble."

Allshouse said that rare native plants like Diablo Rockrose and Franciscan Wallflowers and three endangered butterfly species depend on a mountain free of invasive species.

French broom was originally planted to hold down a ledge of dirt that was created to protect Brisbane from quarry dust. Grazing cows kept the broom from overgrowth, but now that the cows are gone, the broom has been allowed to grow unimpeded, said Brisbane resident Dennis Busse.

Busse said Brisbane is different now, with an active city leadership that has turned the town that was once founded on a landfill into an attractive Bayside community.

He did have one request, though: "Bring back the cows."

Actually, Mayor Barnes noted, goats have been imported onto parts of the mountain to eat the invasive species. But he said the city needs to be proactive while the pilot program is still being tested.

"Proactive" would describe 12-year-old Brisbane resident Brian Alexander Miles, who began weeding the mountain at 8:30 a.m. and planned on staying until the end of the event at 4 p.m. With dirt on his knees and sweat on his brow, he used a small version of the weed wrench to remove roots while avoiding the poison oak that also has infested the mountain.

They've told me, this is our back yard, and we're glad to get to know it better, she said.>

Reach staff writer David Burger at (650) 348-4329 or .