April Showers Bring May Garlic Mustard

By Brenna DeNamur, DNR Forest Health Outreach Specialist, Madison, Brenna.DeNamur@wisconsin.gov; Jaqi Christopher, DNR Forest Invasive Plant Specialist, Rhinelander, Jacquelyn.Christopher@wisconsin.gov; & Mary Bartkowiak, DNR Forest Invasive Plant Coordinator, Rhinelander, Mary.Bartkowiak@wisconsin.gov

Spring is here! Invasive plants, like garlic mustard, are often among the first green life to emerge in the new season.

A dense population of garlic mustard carpets a forest floor.

Garlic mustard is an invasive plant that appears early in spring. Photo: Wisconsin DNR

Two young, green leaves growing from a garlic mustard plant.

Basal rosette of garlic mustard leaves in first year. Photo: Wisconsin DNR

Garlic mustard is an aggressive invasive species that can blanket a forest and outcompete native vegetation. It releases chemicals into the soil that prevent other plants from growing too close. These chemicals can disrupt associations between mycorrhizal fungi and native plants, thereby suppressing plant growth.

Garlic mustard grows in two life stages (biennial). As shown below, the leaves grow as basal rosettes, or small heart-shaped leaves close to the ground, in its first year. In its second year, mature flowering stems develop. Garlic mustard leaves have a strong garlic fragrance.

The substantial number of seeds produced by a single garlic mustard plant also contributes to its ability to outcompete other plants. Garlic mustard seeds also remain viable in the soil for years.

Two side-by-side illustrations depict the first- and second-year life stages of garlic mustard.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) Garlic Mustard has a two-year life cycle, and one plant can produce more than 7,000 seeds before dying. Photo: Rachel Rogge

Luckily, there are solutions to combat this persistent plant. The most common management techniques for garlic mustard include hand pulling and chemical control.

The Midwest Invasive Plant Network provides a guide for those interested in garlic mustard management on their property. It can feel like a daunting task to control the species on your property, but early detection can make a big difference. Set a goal for yourself to prevent plants from flowering. This will help you get ahead of it setting seed.

So, get out there! Take a walk through your woods to look for this early emerging invasive.

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