Meet our enemy: Garlic Mustard.
WARNING! Basic land stewardship practices are contained within. If you wish to NOT learn anything, then go read something else!
This morning was my first day leading a workday alone for the land trust. Things went well, myself and 3 other volunteers out on a mostly dry morning in a complete gem of an area, Kurtz Woods. To keep me from rambling on, here’s what the Wisconsin DNR has to say about the woods:
Kurtz Woods is a southern mesic forest remnant of the presettlement forest that once covered parts of all ten counties in eastern Wisconsin. The forest is dominated by sugar maple and American beech, with small numbers of basswood, white ash, and black cherry. Most canopy trees are in the 14 to 28 inch-diameter at breast height size except for some pole-sized trees along the east edge. The understory is moderately rich and contains some rare species. The woods is situated on morainal deposits of the Lake Michigan lobe of the Wisconsin Ice Age. There are several small kettle depressions in the woods and glacial boulders are found on the forest floor. Soils are mainly of the Hockheim-Sisson-Casco complex, well-drained loamy soils formed in calcareous glacial till. Kurtz Woods is owned by The Ozaukee Washington Land Trust and was designated a State Natural Area in 1981.
You have already been introduced to Huiras Lake, meet my other State Natural Area! This is a really great forest, and I’ll go on in more detail in a future post on why it’s so cool. I’ve never seen so many spring ephemerals in my life. I’ll have plenty of pictures soon for everyone. My workday consisted of ridding the forest of Garlic Mustard. This is a pretty bad plant; it grows everywhere, sets thousands of seeds per plant, displaces native vegetation, and is hard to kill. It’s everything that we could possibly hate in an botanical enemy. During the spring, it’s the first plant to green up, and the last plant to die off in the fall. The seeds can last for up to and over 10 years in the soil w/o germinating. It grows quickly. Spreads faster. It is public enemy #1 when doing environmental stewardship in most of the Midwest and other places. First year’s growth is in small rosettes as you can see in the right picture. Older plants really start leafing out with long petioles and flower stalks, as you can see in my gloved hand on the left. Birds carry it in, deer disperse it, the seeds are wind-born so minus putting all of our pristine wildland into a bubble, there’s not much we can do but control it and eradicate it whenever we see it.
It responds well (dies) to a herbicide treatment. Trouble is, we only have a very short window of opportunity for that at the very beginning of spring. It’s the first plant to leaf out and green up, doing so a lot of the time when there’s still snow in the ground. It’s the prime time to nuke it with herbicide, as the other spring ephemerals are still waiting to come up from the soil. Using Round-up or other herbicides of that nature allow you to kill the garlic mustard and not harm other vegetation, as it starts biodegrading as soon as it hits the soil. After that small window though, all that is left to do is pull it whenever you see it. The aim is to do this as much as possible before the plants go to flower and seed. Once this happens, it’s pretty much game over. You still have to control the plant but with each plant producing hundreds of seeds and lasting for years without sprouting, your job just got a lot harder and longer.
Almost all of my work at Kurtz will be dealing with garlic mustard. There are other invasives in the outlot, but the dedicated state natural area part of the woods is in great condition except for the encroaching GM problem on some of the property boundaries. We have a lot of hours ahead of us, but it’s dooable in the foreseeable future. There are some problem neighbors as well, hopefully proper education will get them to right their ways — even though they remained defiant in the past by not heeding out environmentally sound suggestions.
So it you are out walking around in anywhere that’s outdoors, stop and smell the garlic mustard. Make sure you pull it out of the ground too, your natural community will thank you.
You can eat it too. I’ll be testing a recipe for garlic mustard pesto soon, I promise to report back.