Another cool plant emerging in the woods now is the mayapple. My first year here, I pulled up some towering garlic mustard and found a forest of foot-high green umbrellas hiding underneath. Each plant had a single leaf but there was a thick patch of them, and they really looked creepy. Sinister. I had no idea what they were, so I posted a photo to Ann Arbor’s Natural Area Preservation facebook page and they identified it for me, along with their compliments on the garlic mustard removal. Mayapple. On further inspection each leaf had a dainty white flower under it, sort of like a lonely apple blossom; but the entire plant was poisonous. So my initial impression was correct: sinister. It’s interesting to think that we have some kind of inborn recognition system for dangerous plants, and intriguing to wonder who decided to undercut that native wisdom with a perhaps cynically chosen name.
I have to say this for garlic mustard – it is well named. Pull even the tiniest seedling of it and you smell the garlic on your hands. I make the most progress by starting at the west edge of the property, and clearing the garlic mustard as thoroughly as I can going east. That way, though I still get seed blowing in from neighbors to the west and seedlings come up ridiculously thick at that edge of the woods, there are few seeds launching from the middle of my woods to continue eastward. The patches peter out there. But it’s important to try to establish something else when the garlic mustard comes out, to give future seeds less purchase. I’m trying an assortment, in addition to the catmint, plumbago, and lamium I’ve already mentioned, and will report on what works best.
Knowing that garlic mustard was imported deliberately as a salad herb, I once tried picking young, tender leaves and putting them in a salad. Blech. I also tried a garlic mustard pesto recipe. Blech again. I suppose it might do if you had no actual garlic. Why didn’t they just plant garlic in their gardens?
Happily, the more I curate my strip of woodland, the less the deer linger there. I didn’t expect them to mind it being less wild, since they have been known to destroy even totally-landscaped gardens in town. Out here on the margins they do have the option of open woods, and I am extremely glad to find they prefer them. The year before last I planted two small dogwoods and the deer nearly killed them, stripping off bark as they used the trees to scratch the so-called “velvet” from their new antlers. Seems like they could at least have dropped the old antlers in my woods, in exchange. But in the fall I wrapped some protective material around the trunks and they are now recovering, even blooming a little.