Roma Lenehan is out there, every day for several hours, reducing the lush growth of Garlic Mustard, an aggressive invasive plant that has plagued the Preserve for the last 20 years. She invited me to come along for the morning, before the rain, to help clear Eagle Heights Woods, where Kathie Brock first discovered Garlic Mustard plants about 20 years ago. Kathy likes to tell the story how she thought she might have found a lovely wildflower in bloom. But volunteers soon discovered that if Garlic Mustard, a non-native species few native animals eat, is not controlled, it will take over much of the Preserve, forming dense monocultures. These in turn will kill many spring woodland plants and inhibit tree regeneration. And, in turn again, by decreasing native plants, Garlic Mustard decreases foods for insects reducing insect diversity. Insects, in turn, feed birds and other animals..... There you have it. And, as always, an abundant invasive makes it difficult to restore native habitats.
Ever since, Roma has devoted every spring to make Garlic Mustard less abundant in the Preserve, and she is succeeding, along with many other volunteers. The goal of having no second-year seeding Garlic Mustard plants has been approached in much of the Preserve. Persistence pays off. Of course this year, with the mild winter and early spring, most Garlic Mustard survived and became unusually large, in beautiful clumps of green on the brown leaf-littered forest floor, and is now bolting up getting ready to bloom and make millions of seeds. Early in the season Garlic Mustard can be composted, but once Garlic Mustard begins to bolt it must be collected and bagged because, even if the bolting plants are pulled, they will go ahead and bloom and produce seeds.
We spent our morning in Eagle Heights Woods, which shows renewed beauty as large swatches of buckthorn and honeysuckle have been removed in the central zone. It becomes a little easier to pick Garlic Mustard when the nasty underbrush of buckthorn and honeysuckle no longer impedes every step and tangles your hair. So I was proud to have collected three big black garbage bags of the green garlicky stuff in just 2 1/2 hours, admiring in my bent-over position the re-emerging Bloodroot, Dutchmans breeches, Mayapples, Solomon seal, and early shoots of Jack-in the pulpit on the cleared hillside. But Roma set me straight. She condensed my three bags into merely two – tightly packed to conserve plastic bags. BUT - none of these plants in the bag will spread seeds this year. Yeah!
The Friends Garlic Mustard Pull event is scheduled for May 14. This year, the date may be a little late for pulling the plants before seeding. Please watch your email for announcements. Read about the Thirteen Myths about Garlic Mustard. Photos Gisela Kutzbach
Gisela Kutzbach and contributors