Pass the Mustard Please… by Fred Wooley

And pass it right out of the preserve! That’s exactly what we’ve been doing this spring on a few Blue Heron Ministries projects and other resource manager have been doing elsewhere. Part of good stewardship is removing non-native, invasive species that plague the integrity of natural areas. The techniques and tools for land stewards are as diverse and involved as herbicide application at the right times, or simply pulling weeds as you do in your home gardens and flowerbeds.


Pulling and removing rids the entire plant from its lock on the soil, plus eliminates this year’s seed production and future plants. An all too common invasive in both disturbed and high-quality sites is garlic mustard. Many of you know it by now, the knee high, tall, slender weed with triangular leaves and small clusters of tiny white flowers, each with four petals in a tiny cross. It is a biennial, producing a basal rosette of kelly-green leaves the first year and the bolts with a tall stalk of many flowers in year two. Talk of many; those flowers produce long, skinny capsules, called siliques, each with two rows of tiny black seeds. Information from the Midwest Invasive Plant Network says one plant can produce up to 3,000 seeds! Yikes, that’s a lot of mustard.


Coworker Rita Smith and I found a lot at the Brennan Woods Nature Preserve, a unit of the Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy. BHM is contracted to help care for this unique property on the northwest side of Clear Lake. Brennan Woods is a rolling 25-acre parcel that also drops to a very unique wetland fen. Both high quality and somewhat degraded in areas, the preserve offers wonderful opportunity for restoration and management.
Managing garlic mustard was priority this year. Rita and I began April 25 when the plant was just beginning to bolt and set flowers. We began a methodical process of walking east west transects from north to south, pulling along the way. Within days we noted the plant had advanced in development where it maintained resiliency even when pulled and left to air dry on stumps and fallen limbs. Wet weather seemed to give life to pulled stalks and their tops turned skyward, much to our dismay. By May 2, we were pulling and hauling it off site. We worked parts of another eight days in the coming weeks until we felt we got as much as we could.

Still, we see the basil rosettes forming for next year’s plants. We’re told that seeds can
remain viable for seven years. So we’ll be back. Over time, the plants will dissipate, but
the effort is a long one. I’ve seen it work in other areas and yes, it is worth the work.
Since it is at least a seven year project, obviously longer with missing some plants, there
are opportunities to help! Please watch for volunteer days or just visit this, or your
favorite, natural area on your own in early spring and lend a hand!


In some areas at Brennan Woods, the garlic mustard is currently so thick it provides a
dense monoculture. As depressing and overwhelming as that appeared, we bent over and pulled and pulled and hauled and hauled. The effort to keep going is driven by results. Photos do not do justice, but to see an area of solid garlic mustard and then the same area with the plant gone and remaining native ground plants again seeing the light of day is quite rewarding. I liken it to cleaning a child’s room, or the garage, or back to your home garden. It’s a mess at first, but when done; you stand back with dirty hands, sore muscles, and smile.

On May 23 we were joined by Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy members for the fun. BHM and the Conservancy hosted a volunteer work day at the preserve and while we felt good about the garlic mustard removal to that point, another mustard was shaking its fists at us – Dame’s rocket. This is also a biennial or short-lived perennial, that shares all the mustard traits, but its four-petaled flower is bigger, ranges from white to lavender to blue and yes, I admit, prettier. So pretty, it is often included in wildflower seed mixes and planted as an ornamental. As many wolves in sheep’s clothing, this one is bad. The plant escapes and becomes problematic. In early May we found patches of dame’s rocket, which began to bloom by the May 23 volunteer day. We had 12 people come for the event. We attacked a hillside near the entrance and eliminated stands of dame’s rocket, some small bush honeysuckle, some remnant garlic mustard, and general litter. Conservancy director, Bridget Harrison provided snacks and BHM director, Nathan Simons, provided interpretation of the preserve and management plans. We hiked two adjacent property acquisitions and discussed further opportunities for management of what is now a 45-acre corridor of three natural areas.

The event typified an excellent volunteer workday outing of these two great organizations. Like-minded, good-willed, nature enthusiasts and land stewards gathering to do good work and enjoy fellowship in a wonderful setting. We all left feeling a great sense of accomplishment and a fulfilling afternoon in the field with friends. I left with a pick-up full of dame’s rocket mustard and a smile on my face…

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