Every year, we try to plant something tall out back of the Post Office. The intent is to startle and entertain the people who park in the small municipal parking lot on the other side of the brick wall1. Last year it was sunflowers. This year, it's broomcorn.
Broomcorn or broom corn: Sorghum vulgare. It's used for making brooms. This spring, we started reading Sanora Babb's Whose Names Are Unknown, which is the book about the Dust Bowl that she wrote from her own experience. Some administrator lent Ms Babb's notes to a writer named Steinbeck. He used them to write The Grapes of Wrath.
When Ms Babb's publisher found out about The Grapes of Wrath, he decided he couldn't publish her book because the market on Dust Bowl stories was already saturated. Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Sanora Babb's book wasn't published until 2004. Her book is the one with the broomcorn in it. This really happened to her family: their broomcorn crop in Oklahoma was a failure, which caused them great hardship.
We wanted to see what broomcorn was like when it was growing. So we mail-ordered some seeds, followed the directions, and planted them where they would get the most sunlight in our yard. Here are some pictures. They really need a longer growing season than western Pennsylvania's got: We planted in early June, as soon as the ground thawed. (It snowed in mid-May this year.) As of early September, the tallest stalks have finally tassled. If the frost holds off long enough, we may get the multicoloured stalks and grains they've been promising.
Here's an article explaining how brooms are made from broomcorn, with something about their history. It's an interesting thing to learn about, and the broomcorn makes a decorative detail to Harvest Home celebrations.