Wednesday, March 25, 2015

May 16 Garlic Mustard Pull at Dead End Woods

Bill Collins, Executive Director, Thumb Land Conservancy

The TLC is conducting another Garlic Mustard pull at the Dead End Woods Sanctuary in Fort Gratiot on Saturday, May 16, 2015. We will meet at the dead end of Wilson Drive at noon. We could really use your help because there are a lot of plants to pick. Anyone is welcome. Not only will you get to know invasive Garlic Mustard extremely well, but you will learn several native forest plants. And we will have a cook-out on the dead end so you can sample Garlic Mustard fresh from the woods.

Garlic Mustard – Alliaria petiolata was brought to North America as a culinary herb in the late 1800’s. It’s native to Eurasia and North Africa, and like so many introduced species, became an invasive weed here. It seems like we didn’t see much of it in the area until the 1990’s, but since then it’s invaded a lot of our forests. Garlic Mustard lives up to its name and is quite tasty, but is also quite invasive in open woodlands, displacing native plant species where it grows in thick patches.

Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard is easily recognized by the small white flowers on plants that are typically a few feet tall at maturity, but can range from a few inches to over 3 feet tall. Each flower has 4 petals as do all the species in the Mustard Family, otherwise known as the Brassicaceae or the older Family name, Cruciferae, meaning "cross-bearing" and referring to the cross arrangement of the 4 flower petals. Other plants in this same family include mustard, of course, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, turnip, radish, horseradish, watercress, and rapeseed. Garlic Mustard can also be fairly well recognized by the basically triangular stem leaves with large blunt teeth. The basal leaves at the bottom of the plant are more rounded with wavy edges. Characteristic of the Mustard Family, the seeds are borne in long, thin pods that dry and split open to release the seeds in June and July. Garlic Mustard is biennial, meaning that it typically requires two years to mature. Each mature plant can produce hundreds of seeds that typically survive in the soil for 5 years or more. Because of the dormant seeds in the topsoil, Garlic Mustard control almost always requires multiple years of plant removal until all the seeds are dead.  
Our board members have been steadily working each spring on pulling the main patches of Garlic Mustard from the Dead End Woods but we definitely need more help if we are going to completely get rid of it. We have pulled it for 3 years in a row from one of the largest patches near the dead end of Wilson Drive, so hopefully we are close to eliminating it in that area. Other patches, we have only been able to pull sporadically. Sanctuary neighbor Howard Parish helped us pull a bunch along the south property line a few years ago, and this year we really need to hit that area again, hard.

If you or a group are interested in pulling Garlic Mustard on other dates, we can possibly set alternate work days from late April through early June. It’s best to get the plants in May before they begin setting seed. The seed pods are usually mature and start opening by mid June. Garlic Mustard pulling is a good activity for Scout service projects and school biology classes. If you work for a restaurant or store interested in offering Garlic Mustard greens, let’s talk. This could be a good opportunity for everyone.