About a dozen people from local environmental groups were at The Mountain Retreat on Wednesday removing patches of the nonnative invasive plant, Garlic Mustard. It’s called Garlic Mustard because the leaves smell like garlic when crushed and the roots have a spicy taste, similar to horseradish.
Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust Stewardship Coordinator Kyle Pursel first began seeing Garlic Mustard on the Plateau about 5 years ago. He said this is an invasive plant can quickly spread and cause a number of problems to an area’s ecosystem.
Pursel said the roots release a chemical that prohibits the growth of surrounding plants and can physically push out other plants, such as wildflowers, and overtake an entire area leading to both environmental and economic problems.
“Spring wildflowers bring in tourists and are one of the reasons we’re such a biodiverse hotspot,” said Pursel. “Garlic Mustard is bad because it’s a nonnative and invasive plant that can take over a forest understory [plants under the forest canopy] and fields fairly quickly. It prohibits the growth of other plants and is more threatening than other invasive species.”
Environmentalists from the HCLT, Highlands Biological Foundation (HBF), and Many Hands Peace Farm (MHPF) at The Mountain helped pull patches of Garlic Mustard on Wednesday to prevent its spread.
HCLT and HBF are part of a group called the Coalition for Nonnative Invasive Plant Management (CNIPM).
CNIPM is made up of several organizations whose mission is “to protect and preserve the ecological diversity and beauty of the Highlands Plateau by managing nonnative invasive plant species and promoting the use of native plants in landscapes.”
HBF Education Specialist Paige Engelbrektsson was out on Wednesday lending a hand pulling Garlic Mustard.
“Maintaining the natural biodiversity here is so important,” she said. “The Plateau is a hotspot for things like spring wildflowers and other organisms that depend on our native plants to survive. Garlic Mustard threatens their survival. One species can have a huge effect on our ecosystem.”
Garlic Mustard is identifiable by it’s triangle -shaped leaves with serrated edges. The flowers have four symmetric white petals and bloom in early April.
After years of pulling patches of Garlic Mustard, Pursel said he’s finally seeing progress at the four sites he’s been monitoring.
“I’ve been pulling for several years now and we’re finally starting to get to the point at these sites where it’s on decline and I think we have it under control,” he said. “This was the first year I didn’t fill up a garbage bag from each site.”
Pursel said ignoring the problem only makes things worse and more difficult to get rid of in the future.
“Spring is the time of the year it should be dealt with,” he said. “You want to get to it before it gets to seed. Once a patch has had a few years to produce seeds, it builds up a seed bank and it could take years to get rid of.”
Pursel said sites with patches of Garlic Mustard tend to be found in locations near rubble dumps or construction sites, likely brought in by vehicles.
The patches located on The Mountain Retreat were located near a powerline right-of-way and could have been brought in from a utility vehicle, said Pursel.
However, staff of Many Hands Farm at The Mountain have been actively pulling patches on the property and Pursel said it’s making a difference.
“It’s not widespread in the patches on The Mountain because they’ve been pulling it regularly and we want to keep it that way,” he said.
MHPF Manager Joey Kyle said they were collecting the pulled Garlic Mustard to use for cooking.
“We do a lot with wild edibles at Many Hands Peace Farm, and this is an edible that’s also an invasive plant,” said Kyle. “Helping to pull it helps the ecosystem and later were going to make a pesto out of it.”