Weeding the Forest
And most Earth Day programs send the same message. They say “you too can make a difference…and it will be convenient, mostly involve shopping and won’t change your life. Here, take some baby steps, change your lightbulbs, plant one tomato” and come listen to some folkie music!”
Well, that can’t be right, can it? Sadly, yes. As I commented on another of Sharon’s posts,
Just saw a tv commercial for a compostable potato chip bag. According to the commercial, I can totally save the earth by eating those chips! Curly haired blond children were frolicking over grassy bucolic hillsides, all because of the chip bag. It was amazing.
Those grassy bucolic hillsides, by the way, did not appear to be infested with either garlic mustard or multiflora rose, or any of the other pests on this list of invasive species in PA.
I spent Earth Day weeding the forest edge that borders the back of my property. Specifically, I pulled out a metric fuckton of garlic mustard, along with a several nice handfuls of Star of Bethlehem. The former is much more satisfying to weed than the latter, because you can generally pull out the entire plant and its whole root system, whereas the Star of Bethlehem needs to have its bulb dug out and good luck if you can. And I just discovered a patch of what I am pretty sure is multiflora rose, which has me gnashing my teeth in despair. A giant bucket of Agent Orange would not be a sufficient aid in doing battle against that enemy. I could scorch my hillside and leave it open to erosion and next spring, no doubt, that multiflora rose would be back.
But it is garlic mustard of which I speak today. Garlic mustard really sucks:
Garlic mustard also poses a threat to one of our rare native insects, the West Virginia white butterfly (Pieris virginiensis). Several species of spring wildflowers known as “toothworts” (Dentaria), also in the mustard family, are the primary food source for the caterpillar stage of this butterfly. Invasions of garlic mustard are causing local extirpations of the toothworts, and chemicals in garlic mustard appear to be toxic to the eggs of the butterfly, as evidenced by their failure to hatch when laid on garlic mustard plants.
Damn you, garlic mustard. Damn you to hell.
Here is what I found out about garlic mustard from the helpful folks at the Morris Arboretum:
Care must be taken to insure that the entire plant is removed and that all plant materials are bagged and moved off-site. A flowering plant can continue to mature and produce seeds even if it has been pulled up. Hand pulling and removal must continue yearly until the seed bank is exhausted.
And the seed bank will be exhausted, oh, sometime shortly after the apocalypse. St. Gregory’s Sack! So what does it meant to bag and move off site? Bag how, exactly? Clearly I am not going to put these motherfuckers in a yard waste bag – seeing as how they can keep on generating seed even after they’ve been yanked from the ground – and let the municipal workers haul them off to the municipal compost site – given the whispered rumors about insufficiently cooked municipal compost. It will not do to let them return to community yards next year as seeds strewn all through the compost. But if I put them in a garbage bag and send them off to the landfill, they’ll generate methane. Arrrggghh! Between the two, I am choosing the landfill.
Here’s some more advice on garlic mustard warfare:
Pulling is very labor intensive but effective if the upper half of the root is removed. Alliaria petiolata frequently snaps off at or just below the root crown when the flower stalk is pulled, leaving adventitious buds which send up new flower stalks. Pulling can result in substantial soil disturbance, damaging desirable species and bringing up Alliaria petiolata seeds from the seedbank. Soil should be thoroughly tamped after pulling to minimize chances for re establishment of garlic mustard or other weedy species. In general, cutting is a less destructive method of control than pulling but is effective only when the flower stalk is elongating, whereas pulling can be conducted throughout the growing season.
Weed-whacking is advised against, as you may also be destroying native species along with the dastardly garlic mustard. Not to mention polluting the atmosphere with your weed-whacker exhaust. So, it’s intensive hand labor that is called for.
I weeded my yard, and pieces of my neighbors’ on either side, and the edge of the forest in my backyard (though not all of it – I have to go back out for another round, and will have to keep after it all through the spring). But I know I am just tilting away at one tiny portion of a very large windmill. The patch of forest is nine acres, surrounded by houses, and I can’t weed them all.
Among the gazillions of email newsletters I receive is that of iConservePA.org. They recently encouraged me to take their Earth Day 40 challenge. (If you register, you could get coupons to shop at Gander Mountain, REI, or Eat’ n Park! How awesomely green is that! C’mon Sharon, sign up!) Okay, aside from the “consume more!” coupons, the list of 40 action items is actually not bad, possibly not even by Sharon’s standards as far as an Earth Day program goes. It does seem to be trying to encourage changes in behavior over time, and links are provided to helpful sources of information. Still, a move from “anything goes” in the exotic species pet trade to “choosing your exotic pet wisely” hardly seems like a big leap forward for saving the planet.
iConservePA also has a list of suggestions for groups. Among them is “tackle invasive plants at a nearby park or natural area.” I wonder if I could get any of my neighbors – any of them at all – interested in weeding the forest with me, at least the parts of it that border on their back yards. Perhaps this is an acre I could stake, though it’s certainly larger than an acre. It’s a patch of woodland that’s been allowed to remain woodland, though surrounded by houses, in commemoration of some Revolutionary War battle or other that was fought among the trees or something of the sort.
There are at least a dozen deer living in this tiny patch of woods and they are destroying any native understory plants that might be struggling for survival there, but it still might be worth trying to battle the garlic mustard. In any case, it could be an excuse to go around and introduce myself to the neighbors – most of whom, years after moving into this house, I still don’t know. Contemplating doing that, I ask myself what holds me back, and the answer comes that perhaps they will not share my values, will not be interested in environmental issues, will resent an intrusion on their privacy. Well then, I can go back to weeding the forest alone.
Even though I am pretty sure that in the grand scheme of things it will make no difference and that the battle against garlic mustard is a losing one, it seems like maybe I should just try. Even if just one other person becomes interested in weeding the forest with me, well, at least I’ll have someone to help me properly and sufficiently curse the garlic mustard.