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Forget morels, wild strawberries, ramps, the sound of the indigo bunting. Nothing is as precious as the first garlic mustard plant on the woodland floor. Yes it’s edible, but the value has nothing to do with its garlic aroma in a stir fry. What do you do if you are fortunate enough to find such a thing? Why, kill it! Dig it up carefully by its roots and if it has the merest hint of a flower, fold it up and put it in your backpack, to be bagged later. Then congratulate yourself that you have prevented a whole new area from the fate of being smothered by this invasive plant, which will spread and choke out native species, including new tree seedlings.
On Luther property a number of people have been working at eradicating this and other invasive species such as buckthorn and honeysuckle. Many of you took part in the Buckthorn Blitz led by biology professor Eric Baack in the fall of 2009, and the one conducted this past fall by Molly McNicoll, Luther’s Natural Areas Land Manager. She continues the work started by Eric Baack and Beth Lynch that concentrates on improving conditions for native species with the help of student interns. Beth Lynch also is active in weeding garlic mustard in the city parks.
We’ve helped areas recover, but we need more eyes, because it is hard for a few people to keep a lookout on all our public and Luther property. Especially important is to pull out isolated plants, because they can start a whole new infestation. Look for these beyond the boundaries of big infestations, it is much more important than attacking a place that is solidly covered.
So, learn to recognize this plant and keep your eyes open for it when you’re in the woods. Early in spring it is a low lying plant called a rosette, with leaves that look like big creeping charlie leaves, but smell like garlic when crushed. This is the best time to weed it, by pulling it up by the roots, like any garden weed. But it sends up a stalk mid to late April, that has pointy leaves and puts out little 4 petaled white flowers, and at this stage the plant must be bagged, or it will put out seeds, even lying on the ground with roots in the air. I have seen this many times. If it does go to seed, some of its many seeds can last in the ground up to 10 years, so the real secret to eradicating it is to go back to the same places and look for new plants. So with persistence, those wildflowers will come back.
To help people recognize the plant, we’re having a garlic mustard weeding party. So, make a difference, help save our trees and flowers. Come enjoy an April morning at Palisades Park.
Here’s a great video about how to identify and control garlic mustard: http://www.vimeo.com/2855779
by Mary Lewis April 2011 Chips
Questions? Contact Mary Lewis: 563 382-6349 or [email protected]