A call to arms, not spice racks

07/08/2010 12:00 AM |

Garlic mustard in a yard in Riverhead, where the homeowner has been spraying weed killer to keep it under control. The plant was likely first brought here some 150 years ago from Europe or Asia for medicinal purposes.

Garlic and mustard might sound like good things to have around for outdoor barbecues. But the highly invasive garlic mustard weed is a different story, and it may have already taken over your yard where you have those barbecues — especially if you live in or near a wooded area.

“Wherever the infestation occurs, it’ll only get worse if people don’t deal with it,” said Andy Senesac, weed science specialist at Cornell University Cooperative Extension in Riverhead. “It’s been around a while, but I’ve seen it steadily get worse over the past 15 years locally.”

Identifiable by its lush green, heart-shaped leaves, small white flowers and garlicky odor, garlic mustard is an invasive herb with origins in Europe and parts of Asia, believed to have been introduced into the U.S. about 150 years ago for medicinal purposes. According to Cornell’s website, the weed is “becoming one of the worst invaders of forests in the American Northeast and Midwest.”

The plant tends to grow along the edges of wooded areas, elbowing out native grasses and plants in its path. It can often grow in dense clusters on forest beds and control light, water and nutrient resources. Garlic mustard has few natural enemies — according to a recent study posted on Cornell’s website, herbivores such as deer and woodchucks removed only about two percent of the leaf area in a stand of garlic mustard.

That’s why it’s important for humans to identify and pull the weed — which usually appears in April — sooner than later, Mr. Senesac said. But it is possible to control next year’s growth even this late in the season. Mr. Senesac recommends pulling the plants but to be careful not to knock their seeds back onto the ground.

“They’re already flowering this time of year, so it’s just a matter of being careful and bagging them up when you pull them,” he said.

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