Despite the cold and potential for snow I keep looking for signs of spring.
There’s not a lot out there. I found small bittercress and coltsfoot blooming on south-facing slopes last Sunday and I found rosettes of these leaves, noticable because they had a purplish tinge all winter (photo at left) and now they’re turning green (photo at right).
This is Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) a biennial plant native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. Whether it hitchhiked to North America or was intentionally imported as a culinary herb (it tastes like garlic) it hasn’t been here all that long. It was first recorded on Long Island in the 1860s.
Since then garlic mustard has invaded the ecological niche occupied by our favorite spring plants. It easily becomes the dominant plant of forest and floodplain because:
- It starts growing in the spring before our native plants dare show their heads.
- Its seeds are viable for five years.
- It produces allelochemicals that suppress the good fungi our native plants rely on, and
- Deer don’t eat it. 🙁
So though I’m usually happy to find green leaves in March, these are not a good sign.
For more information on garlic mustard and what you can do about it, click here.
(photo on left by Marcy Cunkelman, photo on right from Wikimedia Commons.)