Monday, March 28, 2011

Cutting the Mustard

Garlic Mustard season is here and Mother Nature needs your help.  We wrote a blog story last April discussing our experience with the first invasion on Bull Creek.  It is now time for the annual battle against this highly invasive species.

First the good news.  Garlic Mustard has relatively shallow roots and pulls easily so you don't have to "cut the mustard".  It is distinctive in appearance so you can easily identify it.  Best of all, it is a tasty herb with a faint taste of mustard and the odor of garlic, great on sandwiches or as a salad green - and it is FREE!  (See below)

Now the bad news.  To quote from this MDC link, "Garlic mustard aggressively has invaded numerous forested natural areas and is capable of dominating the ground layer in many areas. It is a severe threat to many natural areas where it occurs because of its ability to grow to the exclusion of other herbaceous species."  Translation- it spreads voraciously, overwhelming the wildflowers and small tree seedlings on the forest floor.

This excellent video tells you everything you need to know about its growth, spread, and control.  In addition to tolerance to shade and a wide variety of habitats, it grows tall enough to shade out other wild flowers and small trees.  It is a prolific seed producer and these seeds are easily spread by contact with clothing, shoes and animal fur.  Also, it's roots produce an allelopathic chemical that kills the fungi that many native plants and trees require for survival, clearing room for more of it's seeds to sprout.

Garlic Mustard is a biennial, with tiny first year plants, most of which don't reach maturity.  The second year the remainder shoot up, flower and develop their numerous seed pods, (siliques) which will produce voluminous seeds.  It is critical to pull these plants before they seed as the spread over the next years can become massive.  Once that occurs, it requires prescribed fire or herbicide for control which also destroys the native plants and wildflowers.

How can you help?
  • Learn to identify it from pictures at this site. 
  • Pull all visible plants and dispose of them in plastic bags.
  • Seal the plastic bags tightly.  Pulled plants continue to provide energy to the flowers which can produce viable seeds weeks later.
  • Sealed bags should go to the landfill, never composted which doesn't destroy the seeds.  Burning the plants where allowed is another option.

Garlic Mustard is a native European herb which was brought by immigrants for its culinary qualities.  Its mild garlic flavor is popular in salads and on sandwiches and the leaves are also cooked in sauces.  Garlic mustard with exceptionally large leaves is said to have taproots with a horseradish taste. You can cook with it using these Garlic Mustard recipes.

Two Garlic Mustard Pulls
Springfield Conservation Nature Center.
Conservation Crew: Garlic Mustard Pull
Friday, April 15, 1-4pm
Do you have what it takes to cut the mustard? Qualifications include the ability to identify garlic mustard, a willingness to ruthlessly pull this invasive plant by the roots, a sense of competitiveness, and a strong desire to rid the area of this exotic plant. After a quick identification lesson at the nature center, we’ll divide into teams to spread out at the nature center and on nearby lands to conquer garlic mustard. A little friendly competition will be added to this unique Earth Day recognition. Ages 12-adult. Registration required. Call 888-4237.

2010 Garlic Mustard crop
Master Naturalists Bull Creek All You Can Eat Garlic Mustard Pull
(Time and Date to be announced by email)
The entertainment will be Barbara ripping it out by its roots with a blood-curdling scream and vicious grin on her lips.  You are welcome to share in our bounty.  The last part will be preparing bags to take home.  Let me know if you are interested and we will put you on the contact list.   This offer is limited to the first 50 who email me.