Garlic Mustard: Alliaria petiolata
This past Saturday, I volunteered to spend a few hours removing invasive plant species from a small, local forest preserve. We specifically focused on Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata, a tenacious plant native to Europe, Africa, and parts of Asia that was introduced to North America around 1860 as a culinary herb.
I have noticed this plant for some years now, as it pops up in our yard, our neighbors' yards, and of course, as it carpets the understory of forests, choking out native plants. In its native habitat, it is kept in check by various fungus and insect species that rely upon it for food. Here, however, none of these fungus and insect species exist, and so Alliaria petiolata has nothing standing in the way of its botanical world domination.
The group I volunteered with has been meeting annually since 1989 at this little preserve to pull out Garlic Mustard. Their perseverance has paid off. The woman that lead the group told me that when they first started, it took about 2 days to clear out all of the Alliaria. Now, it took about 6 of us working for only 2 hours.
The real fruits of this labor is the startling diversity of plant life that now thrives within the preserve. While I worked away removing patches of the garlic mustard, all around me were large clusters of Prairie Trillium, Wild Geranium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, and May Apple, to name a few. A woman that was helping out told me she had first visited the preserve 50 years ago when she was a girl scout. Back then, she said there were no trillium or Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and she was amazed at the change. While we chatted, I spotted a couple birding along one of the paths. They told me they had clocked in over 30 different species that morning. The preserve is no larger than a city block.
If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you have probably seen a few of the photos that I posted from the preserve while I worked there on Saturday. The painting above is directly inspired by what I saw while at the preserve. It's Prairie Trillium Trillium recurvatum and Jack-in-the-Pulpit Arisaema triphyllum.