2017-04-23 / Insight

Volunteers gather at Seven Ponds to help remove invasive plants

810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com

Volunteer Ellen Newkirk digs in at Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden Township to do her part to reduce the amount of garlic mustard spreading across the forest floor. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Volunteer Ellen Newkirk digs in at Seven Ponds Nature Center in Dryden Township to do her part to reduce the amount of garlic mustard spreading across the forest floor. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese DRYDEN TWP. — Earth Day celebrates renewal, the time of year that new life springs from winter’s thaw. Usually, that life is celebrated — with April comes many spring flowers, like yellow trillium and bloodroot blooms — but not all plant life springing up this month is to be appreciated.

Garlic mustard, despite a name that sounds like it belongs on bratwurst, is an extremely invasive, fast-spreading weed prevalent in forested areas in Lapeer County, and when left unchecked can overrun entire fields and woodlands. The roots of the garlic mustard weed produce compounds called allelochemicals that are toxic to other plants and can grow in most soil types. It isn’t picky about amounts of sunlight either, happily propagating in all levels of sun.

Because of the blistering speed at which the plant spreads, it blankets entire areas so quickly, other, native, plants have no time to develop. “This is one of the biggest things we struggle with in our area,” said Seven Ponds Nature Center Naturalist Nancy Kautz. “Trying to keep the invasive species of plants out, or at least managed, to keep the area for the native wildlife.”

On Wednesday, a group of volunteers from an area business visited Kautz at Seven Ponds to participate in an invasive species removal experience, which during this time of year, means garlic mustard. The nearly dozen volunteers took to hand and knee to pull out individual garlic mustard plants, one by one, roots and all.

“Every season of the year we block off time to deal with invasive species, and different seasons have different plants, but it always needs to be taken care of,” said Kautz. “If it’s not managed, there are several types of nonnative plants that can just take over.”

For many reasons, plants from other biomes around the world were transported here by humans, sometimes recently and sometimes hundreds of years ago. Garlic mustard, for instance, was introduced to North America by Europeans as a culinary herb in the 1860s. It’s nutritious for humans, but can be downright devastating for environments.

“Right now (in April), the absolute worst without a doubt is garlic mustard,” said Kautz. “It’s quick to put out flowers and seeds, and a lot of seeds at that, and it’s very quick to cover a large area.”

Garlic mustard wouldn’t be such a problem if it were consumed by local wildlife, but very few species of animal native to Michigan find garlic mustard as delicious as our ancestors in the 19th century did. Because white-tailed deer, probably the most voracious herbivore wandering in Michigan’s fields and woods, rarely consume garlic mustard, the plant has come to know our area as a paradise. And not only do deer not help, they actually hurt.

“Deer actually help exacerbate the problem because they tromp through wooded areas and get seeds and dirt in their hooves, which spreads the garlic mustard even further,” said Kautz. “And we have a lot of deer here, probably too many.”

The volunteers at Seven Ponds spent three hours scouring the floor of the forest on a seek-and-destroy mission, hunting the pervasive and problematic plant, picking garlic mustard for disposal and managing to fill several garbage bags with the stuff. But despite the volunteers’ valiant efforts, hundreds, perhaps thousands of the plants still remained.

“There are some native species that can develop strategies to adapt and try to cohabitate or counteract the spread,” said Kautz. “But there are winners and losers with this sort of thing, and the native animals tend to be mostly the losers.”

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