Guest Columnist

Help us stop that white flower

Jackie Wedeking is communications and marketing manager for Trees Forever, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Marion.
Jackie Wedeking is communications and marketing manager for Trees Forever, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Marion.
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I love going for bicycle rides with my family, but my rides are now ruined by a white flower!

Ok. That was overdramatic. I still love going for rides with my family. It’s a great way to enjoy Iowa’s natural beauty while spending time with my family and doing something healthy for myself. Eastern Iowa trails are a gem to our state, and I hope you can also enjoy our trails this spring.

However, it’s disheartening when you start to realize that garlic mustard is crowding out many of the native plants you would normally see in our woodlands and along our trails. Where are the wild geraniums and woodland phlox? These are beautiful native plants that I’d like to point out to my daughter. Native plants provide more value to our ecosystem — more food and habitat to pollinators And pollinators are an essential part of the food web, so if you like to eat, you should care about pollinators because they are responsible for one third of the food humans eat.

If you’ve been out in the woods or on a nature trail this spring, you might have noticed a one-to-three-foot plant with a cluster of white flower at the top of stalk. While we’re excited to see spring flowers, conservationists are not excited to see this one! Garlic mustard is an invasive plant that rapidly takes over our native forests. It forms dense colonies that shade out native wildflowers and tree seedlings and completely dominates the forest floor within five to seven years of its introduction.

The white flower I described is actually a second-year plant. Seedlings in their first year have no flower and are lower to the ground. In its first year, the leaves are rounded or heart-shaped with scalloped edges. In the second year, the plant grows stalks and triangular-shaped leaves with coarsely toothed edges. If you aren’t sure it is garlic mustard, just crush a leaf and take a sniff. The plant has a garlic-like odor.

Please help us remove this invasive plant. You can do so by hand pulling the entire plant out of the ground, including the S-shaped taproot. Stem disturbance causes additional stems to develop, so please bag all of the plants to burn or take to the landfill. Do not pull the plant midsummer after the seedpods have dried since this will only help spread the seeds.

People also unknowingly carry the seeds on their shoes, clothing and gear, so this summer you can also limit the spread of garlic mustard by not walking through/over it and washing your shoes.

Trees Forever and our partners have volunteer days where we remove garlic mustard from Faulkes Heritage Woods and other woodlands, including one at Pikes Peak State Park on Thursday, May 23. Learn more at http://www.treesforever.org/wanderedintoyourwoods

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• Jackie Wedeking is communications and marketing manager for Trees Forever based in Marion.

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