Friday, May 6, 2011

Better Know an Invasive Plant: Garlic Mustard

Garlic Mustard is a plant native to Europe that can be found virtually everywhere now in the Eastern part of the United States. I had to go about two blocks from my house before I found these garlic mustard plants. There's another little patch of them growing out of a rock wall just a little further down that same street. Like other invasive plants it is problematic because it out-competes and shades out native plants that are important for native insects, browsers and pollinators. Because garlic mustard is generally about two to three feet high it is a problem for native ephemeral flowers, some of which do provide foods to insects.

This can also be harmful because having too much of one plant in an ecosystem is generally a bad thing. Ecosystems thrive on variety. The more complex a food web is the more robust and stable it will be so when an invasive comes in and out-competes, say six species, the complexity of the ecology, and therefore it's overall health, is reduced.

You can recognize garlic mustard on your land by its heart or triangular shaped leaves and small clusters of white flowers. In the first year the plant remains close to the ground in a rosette of leaves. If you find a few plants you can pick them, making sure to take the entire root structure. If you find a more severe infestations the plants can be cut in early May just after flowering to prevent them from going to seed. If a very sever infestation is found herbicide is generally the only choice.

Like most invasive plants in the US garlic mustard was intentionally transported by humans from Europe. It does have both culinary (a garlic flavor, hence the name) and potential medicinal uses. Despite the potential uses it is not recommended that anyone cultivate this plant because it does present a fairly extreme threat to native ecology.

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