Garlic Mustard vs. Spring Wildflowers

It could prove to be a quick battle if spring wildflowers don’t get any support from their fans.

Spring wildflowers are part of the excitement of hiking after the long, dead winter. The delicate blooms are subtle, but can be overwhelming in their beauty. A forest floor covered with white trillium blooms, the feathery leaves of Dutchman’s breeches, or purple, smiling violets are sure to thrill even the frostiest of hearts.

Enter into the ring, spring wildflowers’ competitor: Garlic Mustard. This invasive species has several tough attributes:

  • It sprouts early in the spring and can shade out the competition.
  • It is a biennial and looks different and is very low to the ground the first year; as a second year plant it can grow up to 3 feet, has small, four-petaled, white flowers.
  • Uses allelopthay: the plant puts out a chemical in the ground that inhibits the growth of our native plants (aka spring wildflowers).
  • One plant can produce up to 3,000 seeds! Yikes!

I know, it seems like the odds are stacked against our beautiful, delicate spring wildflowers. They just need our help. Garlic mustard’s main weakness? It is easy to hand pull. Larger infestations may take several years to control. If they are caught earlier, it is just that much easier to control. I don’t want it to sound like a cake walk, but of the invasive species that are moving in and taking over garlic mustard is one of the easiest to deal with–chemicals are not needed, and if you grasp the plant very close to the ground, they are easy to pull out. To really knock out this competitor: double bag the plants in trash bags (black is good to bake them) and dispose in the landfill. Use the photos below to identify and keep a look out for the plants while hiking. If you do walk through garlic mustard during a forest adventure, be sure to clean your boots and clothes before leaving the area–the tiny seeds are easily spread in shoe and tire treads as well as on your pet’s fur.

 

Left: second year plants with white flowers and pointy, toothed leaves. Right: first year plants low to the ground, no flowers, and leaves more rounded. Report infestations to North Country Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (NCCISMA): email vicki.sawicki@macd.org or call 231.429.5072. Visit northcountryinvasives.org for more information.

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