Cumberland Times-News

Opinion

April 18, 2013

Pest of a plant

Milder weather and blooming trees and plants aren’t the only things to accompany the arrival of spring each year. Unfortunately, it’s also a time for garlic mustard.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture said the garlic mustard plant was brought from Europe to the New World in the 1880s for use as medicine or to flavor soup. Unfortunately, the plant has had a negative impact on the environment.

Garlic mustard spreads aggressively and pushes out native vegetation such as spring wildflowers, wild ginger and toothwort. The latter is important because the West Virginia white butterfly, a rare native insect, depends on toothwort as a primary food source.

Each spring the U.S. Forest Service promotes its Garlic Mustard Challenge, in which local groups across the country scour “Cooperative Weed Management Areas” for the pest and yank it up.

In our area, mustard pulls are scheduled for this Saturday and again on Saturday, May 4, beginning at 1 p.m. at the New Germany State Park lake house. A third pull is scheduled for Saturday, May 11, at 1 p.m. at Big Run State Park.

The state agriculture department said garlic mustard is hard to eradicate. For small, new infestations, hand removal of the entire plant including the roots is an effective way to control the spread. Eliminating mature plants can be difficult and require a multi-year commitment since released seeds can remain viable in the soil for up to five years. Mature plants should be weeded, bagged, and removed.

The Nature Conservancy describes garlic mustard as  a biennial herb, with basal leaves that are dark green and kidney-shaped. Stem leaves are alternate, toothed, and triangular or deltoid. In the spring and early summer, leaves and stems produce a distinctive garlic odor when crushed. Flowers consist of four white petals that narrow abruptly at the base.

For more information about local mustard pulls, call 301-895-5453 or email cmccann@dnr.state.md.us

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