After being cooped up all winter, warm spring temperatures have invited many to venture outdoors into wooded and grassy areas. One group in particular is looking for morel mushrooms, a tasty treat for those who know where to find them.
This season, morel hunters are being asked to look out for another forest growth: the garlic mustard plant, which is a weed.
Iowa Department of Natural Resources Information specialist Joe Wilkinson explains garlic mustard is not a new threat; it was introduced nearly 150 years ago by European immigrants. Yet these plants are increasingly invasive.
“The problem is [the immigrants] did not bring any predators that like to consume the garlic mustard,” says Wilkinson. “As a result, as it gets spread into our woodlands and our parks, it outcompetes the native species, and there’s really nothing that eats it that we know of right now.”
Lake McBride State Park manager Ron Puettmann has taken groups of students to forested areas to pick up litter, remove garlic mustard, and become aware of outdoor danger, such as parasites and hazardous plants.
He elaborates on the threat posed by garlic mustard.
“It overtakes the native flora,” explains Puettmann, “so it really out-competes everything else on the forest floor for sunlight.”
Joe Wilkinson explains how to identify garlic mustard.
“It’s really kind of a pretty plant,” observes Wilkinson. “It’s got sharp dark jagged leaves, it grows up fairly tall, it’s got a stem that’s eighteen, twenty, twenty-four inches or so, and just about now it’s starting to get the little white flowers on it.”
Wilkinson explains that garlic mustard, once removed, should be landfilled or burned to prevent mature seeds from entering the soil.
Finally, Wilkinson emphasizes the importance of safety, not only for mushroom hunters, but also for those just on a walk.
“If you’re gonna be out in the woods, best bet is to wear long sleeves, wear a cap or something to cover your head, and wear long legged pants,” he advises. “The idea is to keep out those wood ticks that are prevalent throughout the year but especially right now in the spring, as we get outside a little bit more, try to keep them away from any exposed skin.”