Gorse is a thorny flowering evergreen plant native to Western Europe and Northwest Africa. Its bright yellow flowers are closely associated with Britain, where the plant grows wild in many locations. Though it's treated as an invasive species in some parts of the world, it does have some valuable uses, ranging from land reclamation to fencing to animal fodder.
All plants in the genus Ulex are considered gorse, although Ulex europaeus is the species with which many people are most familiar. The plant is in the pea family, and closely related to the brooms. It produces bright yellow pea-like flowers year round, with black seed pods. The plant is extremely thorny, and it will rapidly spread in almost any growing conditions; it actually prefers poor soil.
The name “gorse” is taken from Old English; people may also know the plant as furze or whin. The yellow flowers bloom year round, and smell like coconut or bananas in warm weather. It's traditionally been thought of as an inauspicious plant inside the home, although in some parts of the world, people hang gorse over the door for good luck. The old saying “when the gorse isn't blooming, kissing's out of fashion” is a reference to how it blooms all year round.
When well managed, gorse can be a useful plant. Many Britons used it historically for animal fodder, as the new growth is perfectly edible for many animals and it provides habitat to many small mammals and birds. It can also make excellent boundary fencing, especially with animals around to keep the plant trimmed so that it does not get out of control. People have also used it to secure exposed topsoil; if the plant is allowed to grow naturally, native species can actually choke it out in some cases, once they are well established. It is also an excellent nitrogen fixer, so it is used to restore damaged soil.
Despite its benefits, this plant can become invasive and has done so in some regions where it was imported as an ornamental. It thrives after fire, which makes burning it to get rid of it counterproductive. To really get rid of gorse, the plant has to be ripped out of the ground, roots and all. In some areas, it can choke out native species which are unable to gain a foothold. For this reason, many communities have tried to heavily manage gorse.