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The Moroccan Broom, Cytisus battandieri

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Mary Gutierrez

Whether they garden on a small city lot or on acreage, gardeners are always looking for a tree that won’t get too big. Small trees add depth to a large garden with existing tall trees by creating an understory. In a postage-stamp garden, they provide shade and add stature without being out of scale and overwhelming everything around them. Small trees are an important element of any planting scheme.

There are other, practical, reasons to add small trees to your landscape. No more worrying about branches hanging over a neighbor’s property or towering over your parking area, dropping needles or honeydew on your car. Your sunny border that is in perfect proportion now will be a shady border in ten years if you plant a large tree species. A small tree won’t shade as large an area. And best of all, when you plant a small tree you avoid the need to disfigure it to fit around power and phone lines as it matures. Less tree pruning means more time to tend to your flowering plants—or drink iced tea and take nap in the shade.

You get the idea—small trees are good!

Practical but not boring
The next time  you’re on the market for a small tree, Cytisus battandieri is a lovely plant that fits the bill. Topping out at around 20 feet, the pineapple broom  (also called Moroccan broom) has a lot going for it besides moderate stature. It has desirable characteristics common to many plants in the pea family (Fabaceae), like heat and drought tolerance. And like its kin, it thrives in poor soils—it’s a practical plant that is easy to grow.

Sometimes practical plants can be boring, though. Fortunately, the flowers and foliage of the pineapple broom have an exotic appearance that belies the plants toughness. Upright racemes of deep yellow pea-like flowers appear in summer, bearing a potent fragrance reminiscent of pineapples. Plant C. battandieri near a window so its aroma can waft into your home and conjure up the aura of lush, tropical gardens.

The history of pineapple broom
Cytisus battandieri was named for the French pharmacist and botanist, Jules Aimé Battandier, an authority on Northwest African plants from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. 

Native to Morocco and introduced into European horticulture in the early 1920s, it was long assumed that C. battandieri was not hardy in a temperate climate. It was originally grown only in glass houses and conservatories. Turns out, it is reliably hardy to USDA zone 7, or 0°F—perfect for the Pacific Northwest. Since we have such dry summers, it’s doubly perfect.

In 1993, The Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit was bestowed on C. battandieri.

Hardiness and culture
While pineapple broom is hardy in our maritime-influenced climate, it will appreciate a warm spot in the garden if you live in zone 7. In England, this plant is often trained on a wall—it thrives against the south or west side of a building. The pineapple broom is a lovely accent along the back of a mixed border, too.

In Seattle and Portland gardens, C. battandieri is evergreen, holding onto its trifoliate, pubescent, silky gray-green foliage through the winter. At the cool extreme of its hardiness range, it will be partly deciduous.

If pruned severely, pineapple broom will develop scraggly water sprouts, so plant it in a spot where you won’t need to control its height. The tree’s natural habit is informal, and it may have multiple trunks. If you prefer a single trunk, train your plant from a young age, removing any suckers or sprouts that appear low on the main stem. If allowed to (or pruned badly), the pineapple bloom can have multiple, suckering stems and will resemble a large  shrub instead of a small tree. If you wish to use it as a tall hedging plant, allow it to take this form.

Propagation is best done from seed. Seedlings will grow rapidly to blooming size in about three years. After soaking seeds in warm water and/or scarifying the hard seed coat, sow them in germination trays kept at 70°F. As you pot up seedlings and plant out young plants, handle the roots gently, as some horticultural resources say that C. battandieri resents having its roots disturbed.

Whatever your first reaction is, don’t let the genus, Cytisus, deter you from growing this plant. Pineapple broom is not a thug like its cousin, Cytisus scoparius—the dreaded Scotch broom. Pineapple broom is a fragrant, lovely small tree that is loved by any gardener fortunate enough to grow it.  

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