Garlic mustard (alliaria petiolata) is an herb that was imported to North America by Europeans in the 1860s for cooking and medicinal purposes. The wild plant is supposed to be tasty and nutritious, but it’s gained nuisance status in more than 30 states and parts of Canada.
Across the pond the plant is kept in check by natural means—other plants and insects—that don’t live here. One Michigan State University site states that the “woodland pest” may be “the most potentially harmful and difficult to control invasive plants in the region.”
Sandra White, owner of the Adventure Inn Bed & Breakfast on Lake Huron near Port Huron, alerted me to the garlic mustard problem and sent these photos. She recently pulled 4 bags of the suffocating herb from her lakefront property. It is, says Sandy, “altering our woodlands by taking over the turf occupied by native plants. Goodbye, trillium. Hello, garlic mustard.”
The biennial has heart-shaped leaves in its first year; in the second year in spring the plants produce clusters of white flowers with four petals. The leaves grow to 5″ and plants reach 3′ in height.
Each plant holds up to 3,000 seeds in green siliques (slender pods). By late June they die, turn brown and begin to disperse their seeds. Garlic mustard seeds can remain viable in the soil for 5 or more years.
- chokes out native wildflowers by competing for space and sunlight
- excretes chemicals that prevent wildflower growth
- inhibits growth of saplings in the same way
The Garlic Mustard Challenge is an annual attempt hosted by The Stewardship Network, based in Ann Arbor, to rid the region of the invasive plant.
This year’s goal is to have volunteers pull 200,000 pounds of the plant between April 11 and July 6; that’s equal to the weight of more than 50 minivans.
To date the amount recorded by The Stewardship Network weighs in at more than 35,000 pounds.
For more information on how to participate—and even recipes for the herb—check out the Garlic Mustard Challenge blog.
For more info and tips on pulling Garlic Mustard check out Sandy’s Pinterest board. She’s hoping to build awareness of the pesky plant that she says, “isn’t getting the publicity of, say, Asian carp, perhaps because it offers little potential for creepy YouTube videos that go viral.”
You can also join other volunteers in yanking garlic mustard from the landscape on workdays; check the schedule set up by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.