Sunday, April 18, 2010

Be afraid, be very afraid......

At first glance, a charming scene. Some sort of groundcover weaving its way between the Lily of the Valley. But step back a bit, look at the whole scene, and you quickly realize that is not the case.

This is our third spring since we relocated to Wisconsin, the second in this house. The first spring was spent in "corporate housing" while we searched for a house. That apartment backed up to the fox river plain. During that spring I marveled at the wild turkey that wandered onto our patio, the occasional sighting of a fox, and wondered about the plant with white flowers that seemed to be taking over the landscape. 

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), at first glance such an innocent looking plant. Presumably introduced from Europe for culinary or medicinal properties, but one of those plants that outside of its native habitat has proven invasive, crowding out other plants. Endangering the natural habitat.

And it's no wonder. These lines from the King County, WA noxious weeds website pretty much sum it up:

"The fact that it is self fertile means that one plant can occupy a site and produce a seed bank. Plant stands can produce more than 62,000 seeds per square meter to quickly out compete local flora, changing the structure of plant communities on the forest floor. Garlic mustard is also allelopathic, producing chemicals that inhibit the growth of other plants and mychorrizal fungi needed for healthy tree growth and tree seedling survival."
Last year, I did my best to pull up or cut off flowers of the plants I saw around the yard, but hadn't noticed the small seedlings. In fact, I hadn't really studied up on the plant and assumed this was an annual. I wasn't looking for the first year seedlings. Yesterday, as I attacked the current season crop, the long tap roots of the plant made me realize, this was no annual. This is a biennial. Meaning it grows two season - seeds sprout in the first spring, flowers in the second spring, sets seeds and dies. And this plant does all that with remarkable vigor. This robust root structure is not the result of a single spring's growth, and explains why the WI DNR site says not to just cut off the tops in the spring. This is a plant built to survive, it can re-sprout, is built to do so.

And that's when I noticed the seedlings. Thousands and thousands of them. Between rocks, under plants, in the walkways. EVERYWHERE.

This spring's seedlings in the the cracks of the retaining wall will become next spring's plants.

The local recycling center will not accept garlic mustard, which tells me not to compost it. This means my weeding has now become a two trug job, one for the "normal" weeds, and one for the garlic mustard. In my old Kentucky and southern Illinois gardens, I fought henbit and chickweed each spring. Thought those were the worst things to battle. Know I have a much more formidable opponent in this plant. Will have to be much more vigilant, but is it me or the garlic mustard who needs to be least in this little patch of ground.

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