Spring is here, and that means the return of invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata).
Native to Europe, Asia, and Africa, this plant was introduced to North America in the late-1800’s as a culinary herb. An edible plant, it has a potent bitter garlic flavor and can be used in pestos and salads. Research shows that garlic mustard was one of the earliest spices used in cooking – it has been found on prehistoric pottery from approximately 4100 BC!
Garlic mustard thrives in Western Pennsylvania and quickly outpaces native plants, as it has no effective natural predators in North America and a very effective means of reproduction. When invasive plants crowd out native plants, the food supply for our native animals, birds, and insects is reduced.
This plant is biennial, meaning that it completes its life cycle in two years. In its first year, it has dark green rounded leaves forming a rosette growing close to the ground. In its second year, it grows up to three feet tall, has heart-shaped leaves, and produces clusters of white flowers. These flowers are capable of self-pollinating, allowing the spread of the species under less-than-ideal conditions.
So – how can you help? It is important to pull garlic mustard during the first year of its life cycle if you are able. Try to remove as much of the taproot as possible and when there are flowers present, bag the plants so that they are not able to seed. This is not a difficult process, but it is time consuming. Plants will be especially easy to pull if you do it right after it rains and the ground is soft. Also – don’t be discouraged! It can take 2-5 years to eradicate a patch, but a little patience and a continued commitment can make a huge difference!