Noxious or obnoxious, Scotch Broom fun for islanders

Event originally began as a joke in 1963

With the month of June and spring weather upon us, that means the invasive Scotch Broom is out in full force around Kitsap County, to the dismay of plant lovers and those with allergies.

But for others, it’s a chance for impromptu fun – and to cut down some of that noxious (or is it obnoxious?) weed.

On Bainbridge Island, the annual Scotch Broom “parade” or “flash mob” took place recently in its typical quirky and satirical fashion as a way to bring awareness to the noxious weed that interferes with many native plant species.

“It’s really at the roots of Bainbridge Island,” said Michael Schrader, BI Boys and Girls Club teen director, who helped organize this year’s event. “It’s definitely not a parade. It’s not actually an event. Because it’s kind of like more of a flash mob format, we don’t have to go through the processes of filing for” (a parade.)

The secretive and often spontaneous gathering was put on by the Boys and Girls Club, BI Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club of Bainbridge Island. With the COVID-19 pandemic still lingering, the event was modified a bit and held only on Bjune Drive outside of the BI Senior Center, where cars and people would go by with Scotch Broom. Typically, it’s held on Winslow Way where more people can participate and watch. Last year, the tradition was held through a live stream for people to view due to pandemic restrictions.

A few rain showers didn’t dampen the spirits of those in attendance last week, as many participants ran along Bjune Drive with Scotch Broom and a sense of glee. The event started out slow but people began to trickle down to the Senior Center, and soon enough, the yellow-colored theme along with the tradition’s long-standing irony was hard to miss by observers.

“There’s definitely satire deeply embedded in it,” Schrader said. “I think one of the positives that come out of it is people are cutting down Scotch Broom. It’s kind of like Bainbridge Island having its own national weeding party.”

As the legend goes, the event originally began as a joke in 1963 when Kiwanis member John Rudolph was contacted by someone who was doing a guide publication for the state of Washington. Apparently, the publication was looking into all the different festivals and fairs around the state and needed something to put down for the Bainbridge Island section So Rudolph made up something on the fly about a Scotch Broom festival, to his own amusement.

Months later, on the day of the supposed “festival,” a family apparently came to Bainbridge asking about the event and when it started. Rudolph thought quickly on his feet and told the family it would start in about an hour. In the end, Rudolph worked his magic, and the first festival was thrown together at the last minute, filling the streets with participants dawning the region’s most iconic invasive species.

Years later, the silly and light-hearted tradition continues in the way it was originally intended. In 2001, city ordinances requiring $150 in parade permit fees put a halt to the tradition. So event leaders quickly adapted to a flash mob format that’s much quicker and requires minimal planning – and no fee. No matter the restrictions, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And so the Scotch Broom “parade,” similar to the weed, continues to invade Bainbridge Island.

A large Scotch Broom plant in front of the Senior Center.

A large Scotch Broom plant in front of the Senior Center.

A car drives by with Scotch Broom hanging out the window.

A car drives by with Scotch Broom hanging out the window.