If you spend any length of time on the South Coast you’ll likely hear about gorse. This shrub that originated in the United Kingdom is considered invasive in this region and has become infamous among locals.
Gorse arrived on the South Coast in the late 1800s when Irishman Lord George Bennett founded the town of Bandon and planted gorse, a shrub that reminded him of his homeland, in his garden. It is not hard to imagine why locals dislike gorse today. This plant is hardy, grows quickly, out-competes and displaces native plants, and is covered in inch-long spines that make thickets virtually impassible. It is not these qualities that have earned gorse its negative reputation, however. Gorse also secretes an oil that burns like diesel fuel making it highly flammable. Within decades of Lord Bennett bringing this plant to the South Coast it actually threatened the very existence of the town he founded. In 1936 a gorse fire nearly destroyed Bandon!
Today there are substantial efforts to control the spread of gorse, including a Gorse Action Group that consists of representatives from federal, state and county agencies and nonprofit organizations who are working together to assess the extent of gorse and create a strategic plan for control on the southern Oregon coast. In February the City of Bandon hosts the Gorse Blossom Festival to educate the public about this invasive species.
During your next trip to the South Coast be take care to avoid gorse’s sharp spines and be mindful next time you think about transporting your favorite plants to new locations. Lord Bennett might feel differently about gorse if he understood the consequences of bringing gorse to Oregon so many years ago.