By Chris Hung
The Meridian Times Staff Reporter
Finally unshackled by the grasp of winter, the arrival of spring means the return of green nature, including with them, the threat of invasive plant species.
On Meridian Township’s 2016 strategic goal list, it includes a plan to continue in managing invasive species in its many parks and land preserves. The list includes garlic mustard, buckthorn, autumn olive, Japanese knotweed, Japanese hedge parsley and phragmites.
While Michigan’s and Meridian’s flora is host to many species of invasive plants, garlic mustard is considered one of the worst and fastest spreading. It is a biennial plant, meaning it has a lifespan of two years. The first year, it remains diminutive and harmless.
After remaining dormant through the winter season, they grow very rapidly the following spring thaw. With the weather warming up, in Meridian Township, garlic mustard plants will be dotting yards, trails and parks quickly.
For places like Meridian with a lot of green space, it is recommended that the garlic mustard be plucked as soon as it is identified to prevent infestations. Garlic mustard is especially tricky to dispose of because using a lawn mower only agitates the plant, doesn’t guarantee its removal, and can even help spread the seeds for more to grow. Composting or improper disposal of the plant can also lead to further spread.
“We do sometimes take people out to pull garlic mustard or Japanese hedge parsley,” said Harris Nature Center Coordinator Kit Rich, in response to a question regarding the park’s management of invasive species.
A yearly event known as the Garlic Mustard Challenge calls upon Great Lakes residents to assist in a volunteer management of the plant. The 2016 even begins April 13 and runs through June 24 and seeks to pull up, and dispose of large quantities of the plant.
The herb was originally introduced to America as a medicinal plant from Europe, and would normally be harmless in low quantity, but a plant’s ability to spread seedlings 20 to 120 feet in just a year, make it a contender for valuable ground space.
It is because of the garlic mustard’s ability to spread quickly, effectively, and in large quantity that make it undesirable. In areas infested with the plant, other native plants find it difficult to compete with and have trouble sprouting in the same area. Their sheer number also disrupts nitrogen fixation in the soils, negatively offsetting the health of the ground.
Another invasive species that can create issues for Meridian streets and sidewalks is the Japanese knotweed. Left unchecked, they can crack and break through concrete, as they have evolve to grow through even cooled lava. As with garlic mustard, lawn mowers may only disturb the plant and cause more to spread and grow.
Identifying and addressing plants like these early in the spring will help in thwarting their spread and potential harm in the later seasons.