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GARLIC MUSTARD. Warning: swears.
I want to talk to you about Garlic Mustard. I’m cross posting this because I think this is something that more people should know about. I didn’t know about it a few years ago and I am really into this sort of thing, so I think it could use some more publicity.
If you live in the North America, and you ever go out of your home and into natural areas, you should know about this. About the only states that seem devoid of this horrible thing are the deep southwestern states.
Garlic Mustard, as an invasive species in North America, is pure dark nasty evil.
I thought I had met my plant arch nemesis when I met Kudzu and Mile-A-Minute vine. They are both worthy adversaries, and do tremendous ecological damage.
I thought I hated Multaflora rose with a thousand passions.
Then, I met Garlic Mustard.
It seemed innocent at first. When I bought our property, I noticed that the understory of the woods turned into a waist-high field of a rich green plant. I thought that was weird, because the forest floor of a mature forest is usually full of lovely ferns and amazing little native plants. I looked up my mystery monoculture plant. It was something called garlic mustard… I did not yet realize it was invasive.
A year passed, and I paid closer attention. It was choking out nearly everything, and was a bitch to wade through if I wanted to walk in the woods. I researched it deeper. And, holy goddamn. Garlic Mustard, you are a bastard.
Let me tell you why it is so evil:
- It starts very early in the spring, before many of the normal spring flowers can. Trout lily and wild leek are some of the first to poke through the forest floor in April, and yet the garlic mustard is already going strong. In this way it forms a dense mat of foliage that chokes out nearly ALL native species— including baby trees— before they can even get a start in the spring.
- It bolts quickly and puts up stalks with about 300 billion seeds on each one, and they are so light and thin that it would be very easy to accidentally get one in your shoe or for one to travel on an animal’s fur for miles.
- The seeds stay viable in the soil for at least 5 years. AT LEAST 5 YEARS.
- If you mow, cut, weed-wack, or otherwise harm the plant that does not remove the entire root, the little shit comes right back, but shorter this time, so that it’s even harder to get, and nearly impossible to mow.
- (This one makes me so angry) This asshole plant not only chokes out and out-competes native species but it further changes the soil chemically and biologically in such a way that hinders or kills the root systems of native species. So even if you manage to get rid of it, it can be years before native plants can even grow there again because this fucker made the soil toxic. THANKS GARLIC MUSTARD. (nerdtalk: it actually kills the mycelium of native fungus, which are vital to healthy symbiotic root systems of most of our plants and trees)
- Nothing native eats garlic mustard. So, it’s not even slightly helpful to anything in the wild. Even deer don’t eat it. This actually makes things worse, because by choking out native species, the garlic mustard reduces the natural browse that deer and other animals depend on, and actually further compounds over-browsing by deer and other animals. This is sort of like going to the grocery store and finding out that some jerkface scattered mothballs all over every food except the carrots. Everyone would have to eat the carrots, which makes the carrots far more susceptible to being eaten into oblivion.
- Studies have shown that at least one native species is getting wiped out by this stuff. The Virginia White Butterfly, which is an endangered species, likes to lay its eggs on native plants in the mustard family. When it lays eggs on the non-native Garlic Mustard, the eggs don’t hatch. It is thought that toxins in the plant kill the eggs. The truth is that it might be adversely effecting other species too and we just don’t know it yet. Nature is complex.
- You can’t safely even compost Garlic Mustard once you pull it because it will use all of the energy left in the plant to set its seeds, which are not harmed by the normal hot temperatures of active compost.
(fortunately I have found my chickens love it, and they eat the whole damn thing before it can bolt to seeds, so any that I pull goes to them)
Garlic mustard is edible for people, at all times of the year, and all parts of the plant are edible. Supposedly this plant is extremely healthy to eat. This is making it popular for some foodies to try and grow— I have even seen people on forums sharing seed to grow it on purpose. Not only is this illegal in most states, but are you fucking kidding me. Growing this responsibly would be very hard to do, because it spreads so easily. It is plant herpes. Please don’t spread it on purpose. There are SO MANY other delicious greens that are very good for you that you can easily grow at home that will not try to take over the world, okay? DONT GROW THIS ON PURPOSE GODSLAMMIT FFFFF
If you are loathe to put it in a landfill, like I am, there are a few options.
1. Pull that shit well before it can bolt and go to flower, (get all of the root) and compost (there is some risk in this, make sure the plant DIES and cannot bolt in your compost!!);
2. Pull, then remove the entire flower head and securely bag just the flower head. Eat the leaves or compost them.
3. Pull and put the pile in a burn ring or barrel and burn it. I hear this is very smokey and smelly.
4. Chickens. (The answer to everything)
Once it has gone to flower, the only option is to bag it on site, otherwise you risk just spreading it around worse!
Now that I know how to Identify it, I have been noticing Garlic Mustard freaking everywhere. This is a much larger problem than I thought. Beloved woodland areas that I knew as a child are being engulfed. All of the amazing native species such as Trout Lily, Wild Leek, Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, baby trees… all disappearing. That sucks, guys. If you ever go hiking or are on a trail, or if you own any property, be on the look out for this stuff. This is legit serious business.
A video on how to ID and control Garlic Mustard
Here’s a native trout lily in my yard. Pretty, no?
Notice the second-year garlic mustard in the upper left.
Also, all those little seedlings? Every one is Garlic Mustard.
Yesterday I spent all day pulling second-year plants before they can flower. I did perhaps 1/4 of an acre, and pulled over 1,500 second year plants. I didn’t even touch the seedlings.