Why garlic mustard isn't a plant you want in your garden bed

The P.E.I. Invasive Species Council wants people to be on the lookout for an invasive plant called garlic mustard after removing several bags of it from a yard in Stratford.

P.E.I. Invasive Species Council says garlic mustard is harmful to local plants and forests

Garlic mustard is an invasive species that can grow rapidly in shaded areas like forest floors, where it prevents native plants from growing. (Green Thumb Photography)

The P.E.I. Invasive Species Council wants people to be on the lookout for an invasive plant called garlic mustard after removing a dozen bags of it from a yard in Stratford.

Don't let its tasty name fool you — while this plant isn't harmful to people, it can severely damage the soil and other plants where it grows.

Simon Wilmot, co-ordinator at the council, said members joined the Stratford Area Watershed Improvement Group to respond to a call from a Stratford resident who spotted the plant on their property. Last Friday, a team went to the property and removed about 12 large garbage bags full of garlic mustard. 

"It's an invasive species that can be very difficult if it gets out in the wild," Wilmot said. 

Simon Wimot, co-ordinator at the council, says while garlic mustard isn't common on P.E.I., it can spread rapidly so it's important to remove it as quickly as possible. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

"It has the ability to spread into shaded areas so it can really take over a forest floor."

He said the plant can spread quite rapidly and its roots produce certain chemicals that are harmful to native plant species and can stop them from growing. Wilmot said these chemicals also prevent certain fungi from growing in forested areas that help other plants and trees absorb nutrients and water. 

"They tend to smother out the native species, reducing food sources for butterflies and invertebrates," he said. 

Kaylee Busniuk, watershed co-ordinator for the Stratford Area Watershed Improvement Group, said the groups were able to remove most of the plants, but they will return next year to remove any more growth.

Kaylee Busniuk with the Stratford watershed group helped remove the garlic mustard in Stratford last week. She says people who find the plant on their property should report it before trying to pull it themselves. (P.E.I. Invasive Species Council)

"Hopefully because we scraped up all the soil and picked up and bagged up all the leaves and a lot of the root systems, we're hoping that the population will be decimated next year," she said.

She said the seeds can stay in the soil for years before they germinate and start to grow, so regular maintenance in areas where it was removed might be required.  

Report it if you see it 

Wilmot said there have been a number of reports of garlic mustard across P.E.I. over the years, but it's not considered common.

"It's one that we do want to respond to when we see it, particularly when it's in areas where it can spread easily," Wilmot said. 

The plant has a two year life-cycle, growing green, kidney-shaped leaves with scalloped edges in the first year and then growing a stalk with clusters of white flowers the following year. 

He said the plant's seeds can easily spread on people's shoes and since it can grow so quickly, the council tries to respond to reports right away. He recommends anyone who thinks they've seen some on their land to report it to the council. 

A collection of small leaves, that are almost complete circles, sprouting from the ground covered in brown leaves
While garlic mustard isn't harmful to people, its roots produce certain chemicals that prevent other plants and fungi from growing. (Green Thumb Photography)

"It also has a bit of a garlicky smell and that's where it gets its name from as well, if you crush the leaves and put them to your nose," Wilmot said.

Busniuk said anyone who thinks they've found garlic mustard should take a picture and report it to a watershed group or the council right away and not to try to pull the plant themselves.

"There are a few native plants that do look similar, like violets can get confused with them, and obviously we only want to pull non-native plants," she said. 

The council and watershed group can help identifying garlic mustard and come up with a plan to manage and remove it. Wilmot said the council is also using a new app called EDDMapS, that Islanders can download or find on the council's website to report invasive species and identify them. 

"We appreciate anyone entering any data about invasive species on that. It helps us build up a better picture of where different species are across the Island," he said.