By Laura Yates
Athens is being invaded, and the intruders could be hiding in your own backyard.
Garlic mustard, a biennial herb with heart-shaped, ridged leaves and imprinted veins, has been creeping about Athens, Ohio, for more than 25 years. With its enthusiastic reproductive ability, which can produce as many as 20,000 seedlings per square meter, garlic mustard poses a serious threat to native wildflowers and ferns.
Luckily, students and area residents have the opportunity to fight back. For the next three weekends, garlic-mustard pulls will be held at various publicly owned natural areas, and all you need to do to participate is show up. Click here for a full schedule.
Each pull begins with a quick lesson on identifying the garlic-mustard plant so that no native plants are inadvertently harmed. The herb is visually distinctive, but participants can double check their selections by crumpling up a leaf to see if it produces a strong garlic smell. Garlic mustard tends to grow in clumps.
"The problem with garlic mustard is that is has no natural predators. If the deer would just eat it, we probably wouldn't have such a problem, said David Tees, an assistant professor of physics and astronomy who leads several of the pulls. "We're essentially acting as the herbivores during the pulls."
Though there are other invasive species in the region, garlic mustard is especially threatening because of the number of seeds produced by each plant and their ability to remain dormant for up to 11 years.
Professor of Environmental and Plant Biology Phil Cantino has been organizing garlic-mustard pulls for more than 10 years.
His crusade started in 1981 when he first discovered the plants growing in what is now the Ridges Land Lab. By 1998, he was fighting the flora along the Hockhocking-Adena Bikeway and, in 2005, he got reinforcements. Now, the annual pulls are organized by the Athens Forest Stewardship Club in collaboration with Rural Action, the Appalachian Ohio Group of the Sierra Club, Athens Conservancy, Athens Trails and Friends of Strouds Run State Park.
This story was updated at 4:12 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, to correct the image of the garlic mustard plant.