Broom sage plants belong to the aster family, asteraceae, and are related to daisies. Two varieties of these tall woody shrubs are native to the dry southwest regions of the United States and northwest Mexico. A third variety, known as Burgess broomshrub, is found only in limited areas of Texas and New Mexico.
Three species of broom sage exist within the genus lepidospartum. Lepidospartum burgesii is commonly known as Burgess’ broomshrub or gypsum scalebroom. California broomsage and Nevada broomsage are identified by the species names of squamatum and latisquamum respectively. Broom sage is often confused by name with broom sedge which belongs to the genus andropogon of the grass family.
Broom sage is a very woody shrub that typically grows to about 4 feet in height. Many stems emerge from the base, each with multiple branches. The small, narrow leaves grow toward the top of the stems as the plant matures. The overall appearance of the shrub is somewhat circular with green leaves at the margins and the rest being a woody mass of branches and stems. Broom sage is highlighted by bright yellow flowers emerging from the stem tips that make this plant quite attractive in full bloom.
Broom sage is found in dry, desert-like environments typically growing in the bottom of stream beds. Adapted to needing very little water, the plant is accustomed to hot, sunny exposure. Although not widely used as a landscape plant, it fits well in desert gardens and can be very attractive when blooming if pruned regularly to maintain shape. Broom sage grows from sea level to roughly 6,000 feet and can, therefore. withstand winter freezes.
As a well-adapted desert shrub, broom sage requires little attention as far as watering is concerned. Although not necessary, the plants will respond to fertilizing and may grow an extra foot in height if applied. For landscape plants, regular light pruning is a must to maintain shape. But if pruned aggressively back to the woody core, the plant may not recover. Plant broom sage in a location with full sun and sandy, well-drained soil.
Burgess’s broomshrub, also known as gypsum scalebroom, grows only in the gypsum-rich soils of the northern Chihuahuan Desert straddling Texas and New Mexico. In 1995 it was predicted that this species would be extinct within 35 years. Some protective measures have been undertaken in areas supervised by the Bureau of Land Management. Attempts have been made to introduce Lepidospartum burgesii as an ornamental landscape plant, although the success of this initiative is unknown.