Youth join battle to contain Garlic Mustard

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After learning about an invasive plant that is taking over forest floors, Evening Martin wanted to take action.
She and friend Dryden Dinsmore learned about Garlic Mustard at Forest School and now that they can identify it, they have found it growing everywhere. They learned that the plant’s roots release a chemical making the soil around them inhospitable to other plants, making it easier for them to take over the forest.
“I was unhappy because I didn’t like that everything was dying and I wanted to do something to help,” said Martin.
Determined to help combat the spread of the invasive species, they enlisted the help of friends Hazel Dempsey and Izzy Mitchell, to form the Garlic Mustard Squad.
Unlike some other invasive species causing problems in the area, Garlic Mustard is non-toxic and can be pulled by hand. In fact, it is edible. The herb native to Europe was brought imported to North America in the early 1800s. It has a strong odour and flavor similar to garlic. At forest school, Heath and Dinsmore learned how to use the herb to make pesto, which they said was very good.
Garlic mustard has two life stages and it is important to get rid of it before it goes to seed in the second year.
According to Ontario’s Invading Species Program, in the first year, it grows only a cluster of leaves shaped like a rosette, while a strong root system develops. Plants that survive the winter produce flowers and hundreds of seeds in their second year. Dense stands produce more than 60,000 seeds per square metre. Stands of garlic mustard can double in size every four years. Garlic mustard seeds are easily spread by people and animals and can remain in the soil for up to 30 years and still be able to sprout. The plant can grow in a wide range of sunny and fully shaded habitats, including undisturbed forest, forest edges, riverbanks and roadsides. Garlic mustard does not provide a valuable food source for native wildlife.
Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) program director Kristyn Ferguson said the plant has really taken off and continues to spread.
“It has become a significant problem sometimes on of the most significant problems in forested habitats,” she said.
In addition to the plant’s competitive edge gained by altering the chemistry of the soil, here, it has no natural predator so it chokes out native plants that provide a food source for native insects, supporting the natural food chain.
“They take over a forest floor and turn it into a monoculture of nothing but Garlic Mustard cover, and it doesn’t take very long for that to happen, which is why getting to it quickly is one of the best things you can do,” said Ferguson. “The base of the food web in Canada is made up of our native plants.” Native insects feed on those plants and native birds feed on those insects and when you erase the base of the food web you are having potentially catastrophic effects on the food chain, said Ferguson, because non-native plants host only a fraction of the species that a native plant would.
“We are seeing a decline in native birds and invasive species have to be a big part of that,” she said.
The Garlic Mustard Squad is offering their services to anyone who has Garlic Mustard on their property. They will be out pulling plants on May 25 and will be accepting donations to the Nature Conservancy of Canada. They are also looking for sponsorships to work on public property.
“We think there is nothing more critical than getting youth involved because this is the next generation that is going to be responsible for helping to clean up some of the messes from the past century or more that have been made in this world,” said Ferguson. “These kids, getting them out early for these wins. Getting a population of Garlic Mustard feels amazing. So this is going to empower them and make them feel that they can do anything and that’s the attitude we need in this time of environmental crisis. We need more people tuned in so I see these kids as the next generation of potential conservation leaders. You can’t match their energy and enthusiasm and that’s really what it takes to tackle tough environmental problems.”
To book the Garlic Mustard Squad contact Evening’s dad, Simon Heath, at [email protected] or call 705-466-6446.
The NCC also does blitzes on its properties, including the Creemore Nature Preserve. There is an upcoming pick in Happy Valley Forest, Schomberg, in on May 22 from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Garlic Mustard pesto will be served.) For volunteer opportunities, visit


Garlic mustard leaves emit a strong garlic odour when crushed.
First year plants – Small, scalloped kidney shaped leaves.
Second year plants – Grow up to 1.2m tall, with triangular, toothed leaves, and clusters of small white flowers in spring (April-May).

Control options

Hand pulling (make sure to get the whole root) —early spring (April/May).
Mowing/cutting — May (after flowering but before setting the seeds).
Clipping flower heads — May, and repeat until the end of the growing season.
Repeated control may be needed for several years. Seeds can survive for up to 30 years in the soil!

What can you do?

Never compost invasive species; discarded plants can easily spread to new areas. Rot it out in a garbage bag or under a tarp. Throw invasive species in the garbage.
• Treat infestations early to increase success.
• Clean all equipment, such as ATVs, gardening tools and clothing to limit the spread.

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Substitute Garlic Mustard for basil in your favourite pesto recipe or follow this simple and delicious recipe from Free Spirit Forest and Nature School.
Garlic Mustard is available in the early spring and high in vitamins A and C, it has a strong, distinctive smell similar to garlic. The following ingredients can be made in the forest with a manual food processor or mashed with and mortar and pestle.

A few cups garlic mustard leaves
Couple tbsp oil
Pinch of salt,
Splash of lemon juice
Parmesan cheese to taste
A few wild leek greens

Pictured:  The Garlic Mustard Squad, Izzy Mitchell, Hazel Dempsey, Evening Martin and Dryden Dinsmore.

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