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This is garlic mustard, an invasive species that’s not just in Newton but in much of the Northeast and Midwest. The Newton Conservators and the Invasive Plant Task Force have been doing weed pulls in areas like Cold Spring Park, Dolan Pond Conservation Area, and the Charles River Greenway for a few years now with some success, but it’s a constant battle to keep it from taking over and crowding out native species. Each plant can produces hundreds, or even a thousand seeds, depending on how big it’s gotten, and produces a chemical in the soil that inhibits native plants. It’s a biennial, meaning it doesn’t produce seeds until the second year, so weed pulls concentrate on getting the second year plants.

It’s not just in wooded areas in Newton. It’s in yards, on berms, along fences and parking lots. You don’t have to look very hard to find it. I was on my way to Cold Spring Park to get some pictures of it, when I saw a bit on a berm from Centre Street (above left). Then I was driving down Cabot and saw a large patch behind the chain link fence across from Claremont St., in the woodsy area north of the soccer field (right, this is only part of it).

Right now the second year plants have lost their little white flowers, and the seed pods have formed. If you see even a single plant, or small patch, pull it out by the roots, put it in a plastic bag (not shaking out the soil from the roots, because it likely contains seeds which can germinate for up to several years) and dispose of it in the trash, not compost. This is an example of ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ because it will keep small infestations from becoming big ones. These spiky things are the pods; they’re like peapods, in that each little bump is a seed inside.

If you’d like to get Invasive Plant Task Force emails about weed pulls and progress, contact Eric Olson at [email protected]

You can read more about garlic mustard online; here’s a good FAQ:  http://www.ipm.msu.edu/garlicFAQ.htm
And although I’ve never tried it, the leaves are supposed to be good salad greens, which is probably why it was brought over from Europe in the 1800s in the first place. You can Google ‘garlic mustard recipes’ but please don’t grow it on purpose, there’s way too much out there already!