Pulling together

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Vera Jones (right), 10, a fourth-grader at Morris Adler Elementary in Southfield, shows volunteer Karen Beck (left) of Dearborn an invasive garlic mustard plant she pulled near the Henry Ford Fair Lane Estate during a volunteer effort organized by the neighboring University of Michigan-Dearborn Environmental Interpretative Center.

Volunteers remove invasive garlic mustard to help native plants recover

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN – Volunteers pulled together the morning of April 27 to remove invasive garlic mustard plants from Henry Ford Estate Fair Lane and natural areas surrounding University of Michigan-Dearborn’s Environmental Interpretative Center.

Garlic mustard was brought to the United States from Europe in the 1860s for use as a culinary and medicinal herb. Because it has no natural enemies in North America, it has spread to wooded areas and crowds out native wildflowers.

Garlic mustard

Naturalist Rick Simek, UM-D EIC program supervisor and natural areas manager for 19 years, said removing invasive plants like garlic mustard is part of an ongoing effort to bring back overall health to the natural habitat at UM-D and Henry Ford Estate Fair Lane.

He said the EIC has embarked on a two-year information gathering activity to learn about the history, soils, density and distribution of invasive plants and other factors to plan for ecological restoration of the habitat.

“There are all kinds of things that can be done to help bring back the ecological health of this very, very special space here,” Simek said.

Field biologists noticed garlic mustard growing along the banks, floodplains and tributaries of the Rouge River in the 1970s, Simek said. He explained that many seeds spread through water routes.

“It tends to get established along rivers and creeks,” Simek said. “If you were to go up along the banks of the Rouge River through the watershed you’re going to see garlic mustard pretty much everywhere.”

Pulling garlic mustard up by the root in the spring before it goes to seed is preferable, Simek said. He said tamping the soil down afterward is important, since any seeds nearby can remain viable for years.

Simple hand pulling of garlic mustard by volunteers has made a difference over the past 15 years, and the effort is ongoing, Simek said.

“One of the things about pulling invasive plants (is) when you’re doing that you see other things,” Simek said. “You’re looking really closely so you see a little oak seedling that suddenly now has a chance, and oak trees are so important to the habitat.”

Other invasive species of concern include European buckthorn (a shrub or small tree), exotic bush honeysuckles, Japanese knotweed (a bamboo-like plant that grows along the Rouge River), and purple loosestrife flowers.

Simek said volunteers often work in groups ranging in size from four to 20 people, four times a year, on a specific part of the natural area at UM-D to remove invasive species and help restore native plant growth by planting seeds.

Simek helped Patrick Berryman Jr., 16, a sophomore at Dearborn Divine Child High School conduct a study for a chemistry class project to see whether native black aphids would eat garlic mustard plant seeds and slow the spread of the plant.

From May to September 2012 Berryman observed a control plot of garlic mustard plants once or twice a week. He said his results were inconclusive, as the plants were able to go through their reproductive cycle unimpeded.

He doubts any native insect will disrupt the reproductive cycle of the non-native plant.

Volunteer Karen Beck of Dearborn said concern for invasive species and the natural habitat brought her out to help pull the garlic mustard.

“If everybody could do just a little part we might help to maintain the habitat that’s all around us and so important to us and other living things,” Beck said.

Beck said she keeps up-to-date with local efforts through email notices from the Stewardship Network and the Friends of the Rouge.

Stewardship Network volunteer Martha Gruelle with the Lakeplain Cluster said she helped organize the event last fall because they like to work with organizations that are doing this type of natural areas management.

The group supports caring for natural areas and restoring ecological function in urban spaces, as well as raising public awareness about the unique natural areas that still exist in the southeastern part of Michigan.

Gruelle said the Friends of the Rouge, who for many years sponsored Rouge cleanup days the first Saturday of June, have expanded their conservation efforts to include events that clear out garlic mustard along the Rouge River in April and May, before the seeds ripen.

She said garlic mustard impacts wildflowers that bloom before the trees develop shade-causing leaves. Garlic mustard crowding and shading negatively impacts spring ephemeral perennials like trillium, trout lily, bloodroot, spring beauty and wild geranium.

Squirrels, deer and people spread some seeds with their feet, Gruelle said, but many garlic mustard seeds spread through river sediment and result in big stands of garlic mustard on river shorelines.

Karen Marzonie, landscape manager for the Henry Ford Estate Fair Lane, said it is encouraging to have volunteers from the Stewardship Network and UM-D EIC joining their Fair Lane garden volunteers for the kick-off weekend of garlic mustard plant removal.

For more information about upcoming land and water Stewardship workshops, call (313) 205-9305, or go to www.StewardshipNetwork.org and choose the Lakesplain Cluster tab.