GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Researchers are hopeful that a tiny bug could be the key to fighting one of Michigan’s most common invasive plants.
Garlic mustard is a European plant that has spread across Michigan and most of the Midwest over the last 150 years.
Garlic mustard was brought over from Europe, first thought to be a medicinal plant. It is an herb that can be eaten and smells like garlic when it is crushed, but it’s considered an invasive species because of its negative impact on our local ecosystem.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Services, garlic mustard is a biennial herb that survives well in both shade and sunlight. Because it is so hearty, it can take over a forest floor quickly.
“Garlic mustard is particularly a problem because it can infest forest understories. And it can do what so many invasives do which is to create a single strand of one species, crowd out other plants. Once you crowd out the native biota, then you lose biodiversity, and you lose the ability to port a lot of different plants and wildlife. It changes the whole ecosystem,” Michelle Beloskur, of the Midwest Invasive Plant Network, told News 8.
But a new bug has been spotted in the Midwest along with some new signs of damage to garlic mustard. Researchers are trying to figure out if there’s a correlation.
A WELCOMED APHID
Lipaphis alliaraie, also known as the grenade aphid or the garlic mustard aphid, was first identified in parts of Europe in the 1950s. It was first found in the United States last year in the Holden Forests & Gardens in Ohio.
According to Rebecah Troutman, a biologist with the Holden Forests & Gardens, the aphid sighting also coincided with some notable damage to garlic mustard plants.
“Seeing it every single day, you start to kind of recognize when it doesn’t look quite right,” Troutman told News 8. “Often, you’ll see when the aphids are on the plant, the leaves will be kind of scrunched up. The seed pods will be a little bit twisted.”
What Troutman and her researchers are trying to figure out, is whether the impact the aphids are having on garlic mustard is damaging the plant or just making a superficial impact.
While the aphid was only found last year, scientists expect it has been in the Midwest for years now, and are asking people to keep an eye out for the bug. Troutman and her team at Holden Forests & Gardens are using EDDMaps — the Early Detection and Distribution Mapping System — to report the sighting and add context.
“We’re encouraging both positive and negative sightings, both of those data are very valuable to us. So, we know where it is, but also where it isn’t,” Troutman said.
PROTECTING YOUR YARD
While the research continues, there are ways for you to protect your yard’s biodiversity, but it takes years to get rid of it completely.
“It’s not that hard to control, but it takes some dedication and years of attention,” Beloskur said.
Garlic mustard can be hand-pulled, but because of the way it drops its seeds, it often takes several cycles to completely get rid of it.
“Seeds can last in the soil for seven to 10 years,” Troutman said. “So, there is potential that even if you get rid of it, you want to go back and check that area year after year for a little while.”
It’s also important to take precautions and pull them at the right time — in April or early May.
“You want to make sure you get the entire root. And we usually encourage people to double bag it to make sure that the seeds don’t escape,” Beloskur said. “If the plant has already gone to seed, you’re better off leaving it and then going back and trying it next year.”