Garlic mustard plants.

Garlic mustard plants. Photo courtesy of Christine Hanrahan and the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Click photo to enlarge

Something wicked this way comes, and it’s not the circus. It comes in the form of a relatively innocuous looking, small, white-flowered, but invasive plant from Europe called garlic mustard. Bicycling and walking around my community, I have been appalled to see this weed gaining a growing foothold along paths, in woods, and in people’s gardens.

Why is it such a problem? Well, native to Europe, garlic mustard is a rapidly growing and prolific plant with few if any natural competitors. For these and other reasons, the plant is capable of invading and dominating forest understory communities, including at least some seed saplings. As a result, without efforts to control it, entire forests can potentially be overtaken by this weed.

I have learned that the leaves and roots are edible, useful in things like chutney and salad. However, I have never personally tried it. What is more, as shown by the above picture, the weed can become so pervasive that picking it for consumption will do little to help.

If you are interested in assisting, there a few things you should know.

  1. When pulling plants, remember to remove the roots. If the root is not completely removed, the remaining root often will send up a second flowering stalk.
  2. Pulled-out stalks may have enough food reserves to allow seed pods to grow and ripen. As a result, pulled plants should be removed from the site (In Waterloo Region, this should involve placing the plants in yard waste bags for the municipality to pick up).
  3. Once produced, the seed pods may survive in the earth for up to five years. This means that any efforts to control the weed must be sustained over a long period of time.
Garlic mustard plant.

Garlic mustard plant. Photo courtesy of Christine Hanrahan and the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Click photo to enlarge

Of course, none of this information is helpful if you don’t know what the plant looks like. Typically a biennial, garlic mustard starts out its life as a small plant sort of looking like a violet (but not quite so, given in part its long taproot) that eventually can grow as much as 3 to 4 feet fall. The seed pods are long, thin, and green. More detailed descriptions and photos of the plant are available elsewhere.

Unfortunately, despite the seriousness of the situation, not everyone knows about garlic mustard. This is the case from what I have gathered from talking to others in my community as well as doing a Web search. Specifically, with respect to the Web I discovered that garlic mustard is not even listed on the Ministry of Natural Resources site and is only mentioned in passing on Environment Canada’s website.

Awareness is key as the problem is too great for one individual to solve alone. The ladies (and a few gents) in my neighbourhood have been working to control the weed in our local woods over the past few years, and have made great progress. Please, tell others about this weed. By working together, we can prevent garlic mustard from overtaking our precious natural areas!

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