Nature Watch: Join the cause and pull up garlic mustard


Found along wooded gravel roads and also along city streets, is a snowy-white flowering plant called garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata, that -- aside from being a welcome addition to salads and a somewhat acceptable alternative for horseradish -- is far from a welcomed late-spring flower.

As the season now gets hot, the greens tend to be on the bitter side, more so than when growth is young and temperatures cooler. Our son-in-law made and froze many pints of pesto to be used throughout the year, and probably to mix with basil later in the season.

It is an alien that has success written in its genes, for it is able to out compete most native plants, and is a biennial -- taking two years to fully mature -- flower that produces copious seeds. This gives the plant an opportunity to establish itself before shouting "pull me up." And pull it up, you should, although I am beginning to think that like the deer tick, garlic mustard is here to stay.

And, if you don't get pulling soon, before the seeds begin to develop, it will add another year's worth of seeds to expand its circle of influence. Manual removal does work to limit its spread. And when pulling, do so deliberately, but gently enough to get most of the roots, bag (especially the flowers and seed pods) and save with rubbish for removal, if your town or city has such. Don't add to the compost pile, as seeds will germinate at some point.

One source says seeds can last in soil for at least 10 years, although other sources give seeds five years.

The plant originated in Europe and was most likely first brought to this continent on purpose by settlers as a vegetable (it is high in vitamins A and C). So prolific, it was even planted to prevent soil erosion.

The wildflower enthusiast will find displeasure in reading a comment from the U.S. National Park Service: "Garlic mustard has displaced vast areas occupied by native spring wildflowers like spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), wild ginger (Asarum canadense), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), trilliums (Trillium species) and toothworts (Cardamine)."

In addition, the report continues, "Three native butterfly species, the West Virginia white (Pieris virginiensis), mustard white butterfly (Pieris oleracea), and the falcate orange-tip (Anthocharis midea annicka), are especially impacted when garlic mustard displaces toothworts, its host plants. Chemicals in garlic mustard are toxic to the larvae of the native butterflies. Other chemicals have been found to affect mychorrhizal fungi associated with native trees, resulting in suppression of native tree seedling growth."

So, pull it up!


Get out and get active

The next Berkshire BioBlitz (a.k.a. Biodiversity Days) will take place June 13 and 14, and will include a 24-hour biological assessment of the Three Mile Hill Trail/Fountain Pond State Park. For more information, go to

The goal is to identify as many species as possible (as a cooperative venture). Birds, reptiles, mammals, plants, fish everything!

This year's Berkshire Bioblitz lead organizer is Collin Adkinse, AmeriCorps member and MassLIFT service learning coordinator.

Contact Adkinse via email at

Questions and comments for Thom Smith: Email


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