Saturday, April 29, 2006

Garlic Mustard? Yuck.

I love garlic. I love mustard. But, I HATE Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)! On a recent jaunt through our neighborhood, I couldn't help but notice the prevalence of this invasive plant.

What is it?
Garlic Mustard is an invasive, exotic herb introduced from Europe presumably for its supposed medicinal properties and for use in cooking. It is widely distributed throughout the northeastern and Midwestern U.S. from Canada to South Carolina and west as far as California. Habitat areas include forests, forest edges, open spaces, and disturbed fields. It is 12 to 48 inches tall and has triangular or heart-shaped leaves that are scalloped and deeply veined. The leaves smell like garlic when they are crushed. Flowers are small, 4-petaled, and white. They occur in small clusters and bloom throughout April and May.

So why do I hate it so much?
Garlic mustard poses a threat to native plants and animals in forests throughout its range. Many native widlflowers that complete their life cycles in the springtime (e.g., spring beauty, wild ginger, bloodroot, Dutchman's breeches, hepatica, toothworts, and trilliums) occur in the same habitat. Garlic mustard aggressively outcompetes native plants for light, moisture, nutrients, soil and space. Wildlife that depend on these native plants as food sources for pollen, seeds, foliage, etc. lose out.

Darn, I have some in my yard. Help!!!
Unfortunately, garlic mustard is a pain in the butt to control and manage once it is established. There are various schools of thought and several ways to control it. Control methods range from simply pulling out the plants to controlled burning of infested areas. More info and detailed steps can be found here and here.

But the news is not ALL bad. The plant can even be cooked or eaten raw for a tasty (?) treat. It also has some funny alternate common names such as sauce-alone, jack-by-the-hedge, poor man's mustard, and jack-in-the-bush. Ok, so that's the only good news. If you have this plant in your yard, local park, or other natural site, please inform people about it and please help control its spread.

3 comments:

LauraHinNJ said...

There's an article in today's NY Times (I'd link it if I knew how) that says that garlic mustard disrupts the relationship between hardwood trees seedlings and soil fungi due to the antifungal properties of plants in the mustard family. Soil fungi have had time to adjust to the native mustards, but not yet to the non-native garlic mustard. Researchers say that the antifungal properties make it difficult for seedlings to get the proper nutrients from the soil, causing them to grow much more slowly.

Anyway, it was an interesting article and I thought of you and this recent post.

Nuthatch said...

Hey, Patrick. I just posted on the dreaded Garlic Mustard. Thanks for leaving comments over at Bootstrap, I've enjoyed reading your blog!

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