Genista is a genus, or group, of plants that includes many varieties of broom or greenweed. This genus is part of the legume family, and includes dozens of plant species ranging from attractive flowering plants to noxious weeds. Different types of genista can vary in size from small shrubs and ground coverings to towering trees. While plants in the genista group feature many different characteristics, one feature they typically share is an ability to grow in untraditional locations. These plants can often thrive under poor conditions, or in soil that would inhibit most plant growth.
One of the largest genista varieties is the aptly named common broom. Native to Europe and Africa, this plant is considered a noxious weed in many parts of the world. It grows to approximately a foot (about 30 cm) in height, and quickly spreads to form a ground covering with distinctive yellow flowers. Common broom is particularly prevalent in North America and Australia, where it is known for crowding out native plant species. This plant grows so rapidly and hardily that it can make entire fields uninhabitable not only for other plants, but also for many animals.
Part of the reason common broom is able to grow so rapidly is its ability to thrive in dry, sandy soils. Like many genista species, common broom can withstand a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions. This hardy nature makes it hard to get rid of, even for the most dedicated gardener. Common broom produces large seed pods that burst open over time and spread this plant even further across the landscape.
French broom is very similar to the common broom species. Native to Europe, this plant has become a noxious weed in many parts of the world. Not only does it grow quickly and crowd out other plants, but it also produces toxic seeds and leaves that can kill local wildlife if ingested.
A number of genista varieties offer beautiful flowers and an attractive appearance without disturbing nearby plant and animal species. Many gardeners utilize hybrid genista plants to enjoy the benefits of this plant group without the potential drawbacks. These hybrids include Spanish bloom and purple broom, which consist of flowering shrubs with thick stems and small leaves. Blooms can vary in color from yellow to purple, with the size and duration of the bloom dependent on species and climate. The Mount Etna broom is a particularly distinctive species of genista that grows as tall as some homes.