Invasive Garlic Mustard Is Taking Out Michigan’s Native Plants. Here’s What to Do.

Left - A small patch of mature garlic mustard, showing its serrated, heart-shaped leaves and tiny, white, four-petaled flowers. Photo courtesy of Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org. Right - The underside of a garlic mustard leaf infested with garlic mustard aphids. Photo courtesy of Rebecah Troutman, Holden Forests and Gardens.

By Isaac Constans

April 5, 2023

Scientists are looking for help spotting and removing invasive garlic mustard plants. 

MICHIGAN—Around this time every year, one invasive species that springs up is garlic mustard—a plant with rounded, serrated leaves and four-petaled white flowers that quickly takes over roadsides, forest floors, and open ground. 

The invasive plant was purposefully brought to the US in the 1800s by European settlers who used it for food and medicine. But like many invasive species, garlic mustard now does more harm than good by releasing a toxic chemical that suffocates the growth of native plantlife in its vicinity. Local biologists have been looking for ways to snuff it out, and a new troop appears to have joined their ranks.

First-year garlic mustard plants grow as rosettes with round to heart-shaped leaves. Photo courtesy of Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org.

This year, aphids—tiny pear-shaped insects—are part of the fight against the invasive plant. Garlic mustard aphids, which are known as “grenade aphids,” feast on the sap of invasive garlic mustard, leaving leaves wilted and seed pods warped. 

“We’re seeing impacts like shorter plants, fewer and twisted seed pods, and less overall biomass at these sites. It appears that even a small number of aphids can affect plant growth,” Midwest Invasive Plant Network coordinator Michelle Beloskur said.

The bugs, also originally from Europe, were first spotted stateside in 2021, and there have been positive identifications in Michigan.

Officials are asking for help in learning more about the scope of garlic mustard aphids in Michigan. The bugs can be found on invasive garlic mustard plants and match the following characteristics: small, dark gray to green, and raised blotches on its back.

Information on the prevalence of invasive garlic mustard or aphids can be reported using these instructions. And if you feel so inclined, you can dispose of garlic mustard yourself by picking the plant, double-bagging it, and leaving it in the sun for several days to decompose.

Or, follow the aphids’ lead, and just eat it. The state Department of Natural Resources is reminding residents that invasive garlic mustard is also edible and can make for a tasty garnish in soups, meats, and sauces. When crushed, its leaves and stems release a distinctively garlic flavor.

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