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Just Pull It

As spring returns to Big Rock Park, you'll see some delicate plants along the trail. Some are our beloved native ephemerals. One is not. It's garlic mustard.

It's peeking its head out right now. This is what it looks like See the shaggy green leaves near the base of the tree. It looks so cute and harmless. It's not.

In a month or two, it will look like this:

Garlic mustard is an invasive species--an escaped garden herb brought over from Europe.. In Europe, weevil beetles eat the plant and keep it in check. But here in Iowa, not much wants to eat it. It contains cyanide and although some people eat it, it doesn't have predators here. In areas of Michigan, goats are used to eat it in a controlled conservation grazing. Goats have special enzymes in their stomach to prevent them from being poisoned.

The problem is, it is over-taking our native plants It's a biennial and the older it gets, the taller it gets and it blocks the light for other plants. It lets off a chemical that alters the soil, making it difficult for other plants to grow. This includes trees!

Above: people pulling garlic mustard © Samantha Christian

You have our permission to pull it. Pull it, bag it, and toss it in one of our trash bins --or yours. Be sure to pull it before it sets seeds or you could carry the seeds home and have a nice plot of garlic mustard for yourself. The seeds are viable for up to five years so these plants are persistent. The best time to pull is when the ground is wet and you can get out all of the roots.

The best time of year to pull is now. Mid-April to mid-May is prime pulling time. By July, it will have gone to seed and you should avoid those seeds! Get some arm exercise and enjoy your time at the park and pull it out this spring.


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