Its that time of year. Time to pick the garlic mustard.
Garlic mustard is a pretty biennial flowering herb that belongs to the Mustard family. It is easy to recognize by the cluster of white flowers and heart shaped leaves it produces in its second year. These flowers are crucifer shaped, meaning it has four petals in the shape of a cross. This plant grows in the shade at the borders of forests and fields.
Garlic mustard was introduced by the Europeans in the mid 1800s as a food. It is called ‘garlic’ mustard because when the leaves are crushed they have a garlicky odor and taste to them. The plant is edible and the leaves make a tasty pesto.
Unfortunately for us in New England it is an invasive plant aggressively taking over native plants here in Massachusetts such as the trillium and Jack-in-the-Pulpit. This in turn diminishes biodiversity.
There are many places where the plant will actually take over the entire area forming a carpet of nothing but garlic mustard. Not a good thing for the ecosystem.
It is important to pull these plants before they go to seed since each plant can produce from about 100-1000 seeds.
Pulling of the plant before it goes to seed can reduce its number in the following years.
To correctly pull the plant you want to grab it by the stalk as close to the ground as you can get it, then gently pull the plant out of the ground root and all. If you pull from the top of the plant the stalk will snap off and the roots will remain in the ground.
Shake off the dirt, make a pile and dispose of it in the trash. Leaving the plant in the grass or in the road will not kill it. The plant is hardy and tough and will live in a pile long enough to go to seed. Impressive evolutionary survival technique don’t you think?
Our after-school program focused their science based TV show on invasive species. Garlic mustard was one of the aliens discussed. To make it real the students hiked out to the school yard and in in 20 minutes pulled 20 pounds of garlic mustard. They focused the rest of their time ripping out Oriental Bittersweet. But that is another story.