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ANF group helps pull ‘rampant’ garlic mustard plant

‘It’s a perfect invasive’

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Allegheny National Forest retirees Sylvia Grisez (left) and Joan Yohe pull garlic mustard Wednesday during an ANF outing at Buckaloons Recreation Area.

Garlic mustard is tasty and high in vitamins.

But, it’s an invasive species that threatens to displace native species.

On Wednesday, a group of Allegheny National Forest employees and retirees spent hours at Buckaloons Recreation Area to pull the invasive plants.

The plant has been around for hundreds of years. “Garlic mustard is a biennial plant that was introduced from the early European settlers,” ANF Botanist April Moore said.

The settlers didn’t bring it accidentally.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry Allegheny National Forest Botanist April Moore (left) with Sarah Needs and Kirstin Palumbo pull garlic mustard Wednesday during an ANF outing at Buckaloons Recreation Area.

“It was introduced as a forage plant,” Moore said.

The settlers knew garlic mustard was edible and nutritious. It smells and tastes like garlic and is high in vitamin A and vitamin C.

“There are over 77 things that keep it in check… in Europe,” Moore said. “Over there it’s a native spring wildflower. Over there, there are only about seven (natural checks) and they don’t reduce it’s viability.”

“It’s a perfect invasive,” Moore said. Each two-year-old plant can produce 500 to 1,500 seeds that can be spread by wind, water, birds, or human activity. Seeds are viable for up to six years.

The plant is “allelopathic,” she said. “It produces chemicals that prohibit the growth of other species.”

“It’s rampant,” she said. “It’s quite prolific throughout the Allegheny watershed.”

Because it is so widespread, the ANF has to target specific areas. “We’ve been working over the years to maintain habitat for our native plants,” she said.

Areas of special interest include those where rare species are known to grow and areas where garlic mustard is just starting to take hold.

Some of the species of interest locally are white trout lily and toothwort – the host plant of the West Virginia white butterfly – a listed species of concern.

The butterflies lay eggs on garlic mustard, which they cannot differentiate from toothwort. When the larva emerge, they die. “The chemicals in the garlic mustard kill the caterpillars,” Moore said.

“We’ve been able to keep garlic mustard under control in this general area,” she said.

While the plant is prolific and widespread, there is some good news.

“It’s easy to pull out when the soil is moist,” Moore said.

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