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Publication #SS-AGR-406

Biology and Management of Whitehead Broom in Pastures1

Brent Sellers and James McWhorter2

Whitehead broom (Spermacoce verticillata; Figure 1), also known as shrubby false buttonweed or southern larraflower, is becoming problematic in south Florida pastures, hayfields, and rights-of-way. With the first recorded herbarium specimen dating back to 1956, this plant was likely introduced to Florida during the late 1940s or early 1950s. Since this time, it has increased in range throughout central and south Florida and has become a serious problem. To date, there are few options to control this species.

Figure 1. 

Whitehead broom growing in a pasture. Note the opposite to whorled leaf arrangement, linear leaves, and clusters of white flowers at the nodes.


Credit:

Brent Sellers, UF/IFAS


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Whitehead broom is a perennial plant with multiple branches that are capable of rooting at the nodes. Leaves are opposite, smooth, and almost linear, tapering to a point at both ends. Multiple leaves are often present, giving a whorled appearance at the nodes. During the first year of growth, the stem is herbaceous and angled, but the angles round off and the stem turns woody with age. Small white flowers are arranged in clusters at the upper nodes of each branch. The level of seed production is currently unknown, but it is expected to be fairly high based on the number of flower clusters present on each plant.

Whitehead broom has been identified as an important nectar source for Larra bicolor, a crabonid wasp released as a biocontrol agent against the mole cricket. The mole cricket has historically been a significant pest that has contributed to bahiagrass decline. As a result, significant research efforts were made to establish this beneficial wasp. The Larra wasp relies on nectar sources for its survival. Since whitehead broom flowers nearly year-round in central and south Florida, the plant was highly promoted during the last decade. It is possible that the promotion of this plant has led to the current levels of infestation found in pastures and hayfields. However, it should also be noted that natural movement of this plant has also been occurring as it has been documented in 49% of natural preserves in south Florida.

Whitehead broom was first identified as a problem in south Florida on the I-75 corridor of Alligator Alley. Several attempts were made to control this infestation, but no herbicides were effective. Since this time, several ranchers have also indicated that whitehead broom has become problematic. Over the past five years, whitehead broom infestations between 50 and 100% in bermudagrass hayfields, bahiagrass pastures, and sod fields have been observed. Attempts to control the plant have been largely unsuccessful, except for one in a bahiagrass pasture where 2 qt/A hexazinone (Velpar, Tide Hexar, etc.) were applied during the summer when rain was common.

We have tested several herbicides for whitehead broom control in pastures and hayfields (Table 1). Remedy Ultra, Banvel, Weedmaster, Pasturegard HL, GrazonNext HL, and Telar provided less than 40% control 30 days after treatment. Although plants were initially injured by the herbicides, complete regrowth occurred by 60 days. Herbicides containing metsulfuron (Cimarron Plus at 1.25 oz/A and Cimarron Max (0.6 oz/A metsulfuron and 2 qt/A Weedmaster)) provided more than 40% control for two months following treatment. However, metsulfuron should only be applied to pastures that do not contain bahiagrass with the understanding that long-term control has not been satisfactory. The only selective herbicide that has provided more than 80% control is hexazinone at 2 qt/A. Even with this initial kill using hexazinone, we observed plants regrowing from the root system within three months after treatment. Non-selective treatment with glyphosate (1 to 3% solution as a spot-treatment; unpublished data) has been shown to be effective in controlling this plant.

Attempts to eradicate this plant would be unwise because whitehead broom is an important nectar source for the Larra wasp. However, it is important to have a management plan in place due to limited control options. If whitehead broom is beginning to increase in an area, begin spot treatment with glyphosate (3% v/v) and retreat when new growth appears. Mowing only provides temporary relief, and it is likely the cause of seed spread within and between pastures. Mowing equipment must be cleaned before being used in infestation-free areas. At this point in time, only Velpar at 2 qt/A provides good control of whitehead broom. Retreatment will likely be necessary.

Tables

Table 1. 

Response of whitehead broom to herbicide applications at 30 and 365 days after treatment (DAT).

Treatment

Active Ingredient(s)

Rate

30 DAT

365 DAT

   

(oz/A)

——% Control——

Remedy Ultra

Triclopyr

32

0

0

Banvel

Dicamba

64

38

3

Weedmaster

Dicamba + 2,4-D

64

11

0

Pasturegard HL

Triclopyr + fluroxypyr

64

38

0

Telar

Chlorsulfuron

1.33

18

0

Cimarron Max1

Metsulfuron + dicamba + 2,4-D

0.6 + 64

46

10

Cimarron Plus

Metsulfuron + chlorsulfuron

1.25

45

5

GrazonNext HL

Aminopyralid + 2,4-D

34

10

0

Velpar

Hexazinone

64

85

0

1Cimarron Max is sold as a packaged container with Cimarron (metsulfuron) and Weedmaster (dicamba + 2,4-D).

Footnotes

1.

This document is SS-AGR-406, one of a series of the Agronomy Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date August 2016. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Brent Sellers, Extension weed specialist, associate professor, Agronomy Department, UF/IFAS Range Cattle Research and Education Center; and James McWhorter, livestock agent I, UF/IFAS Extension Highlands County; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF/IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication do not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition. All chemicals should be used in accordance with directions on the manufacturer's label.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.