It was around 20 years ago that I first heard about it.
Quarry Hill Friends members Jane and Ann Remfert were out for a hike in Quarry Hill Park. Afterwards they came in the nature center to tell me they had found a couple garlic mustard plants in the north end of the park. They told me they pulled the plants because they knew it was an invasive species.
A few years later I was told by Century High School sports biology teacher Bruce Fruitiger that garlic mustard was found in woods adjacent to the school. I must confess I didn't take much heed in Bruce's concern, nor that of the Remferts. But in my last few years at Quarry Hill I became more aware of this insidious plant when it showed up along Silver Creek, where we did many activities with students.
Garlic mustard is another one of the invasive species that has become established across the U.S. While it is native in many other parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, Scandinavia, and China, it did not arrive in North America until the mid 1800s, brought over as a culinary plant. Now, since 2006, it has been classified as a noxious weed.
Interestingly, in its native range around the rest of the world, garlic mustard has been a part of many cultures for centuries. It has been used medicinally, as well as in cooking, as it gives a flavor of both garlic and mustard.
In other countries it is not considered a problem because it is a part of their natural ecosystems. But here in the U.S., without the specific insects, fungi, and probably other organisms to keep it in check, its spread is rampant. And, unfortunately, it is not welcomed by our native insects and other animals that live in wooded settings.
After finally realizing garlic mustard was invading Quarry Hill, I figured I could control it. So, for a couple years I'd spend hours pulling the garlic mustard I was seeing as it came up easily from wet soil after a rain. If flowering, I also needed to bag the plants as they could go to seed even after pulling.
After a few years of doing this, often enlisting a volunteer or two, I recognized I was losing the battle, as new and larger patches would keep showing up the next year. Since leaving Quarry Hill, I have read about efforts by staff and volunteers to try to eradicate garlic mustard from the park. Recent bike rides through the park suggest the garlic mustard is still winning.
The past few years my bike rides on the Bear Creek trail also reveal it getting a start there. Again, I tried to stem its encroachment by pulling what I saw, and contacting the Park Department. They did send out crews to spray it a few times, but it was too little, too late. So, now when I bike through both Quarry Hill and in the Bear Creek woods at this time of year, I am reminded how quickly this invasive got a foothold after first hearing about it only 20 years ago.
Unfortunately, another of my favorite places to visit, the Whitewater Valley, is now overrun with garlic mustard. I was thoroughly surprised see how much was there on recent drives through the valley, knowing fully that it was edging out native plants, including many wildflowers, that are found there.
I am skeptical that invasive species can be controlled, even with the hundreds of millions of dollars we are spending on some, like milfoil, zebra mussels, and Asian carp. Unfortunately, the best control may be that of nature adapting to these invasions and eventually getting them under control, a process that may take decades, if not centuries.
So, for now I can only hope the garlic mustard will not get a foothold along the Mayowood bike trail, ultimately wiping out all of the bluebells that many of us enjoy each spring. To that end, I will watch for and pull garlic mustard along that trail whenever I see it, and hope others might do so also.