Getting the garlic out of the forest
Volunteers pulling garlic mustard at Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by Miguel Hortiguela)
Sure it might taste good, but garlic mustard has no place in Ontario’s Happy Valley Forest — one of the largest remaining intact deciduous forests on the Oak Ridges Moraine. The pungent weed is an invasive species, and it has been spreading across Ontario for decades.
Brought to North America by early colonists, this alien plant is now creeping across the continent at a rate of 6,400 square kilometres per year. That's an area 10 times the size of Toronto!
“Garlic mustard can very quickly outcompete our native plants, creating a monoculture,” says Jenna Siu, coordinator, conservation biology, Happy Valley Forest for the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). “It also disrupts the soil chemistry and prevents other plants from growing.”
One of the ways that NCC conserves our natural ecosystems is by ensuring invasive species, like garlic mustard, are removed and native plants are given the chance to return and thrive.
“In Happy Valley Forest, we have been hosting weekly garlic mustard events in the spring and fall where volunteers come to help us pull it out,” says Jenna. “Staff and contractors also work to reduce the spread using the best management practices.”
This spring, with support from the Government of Canada through the Natural Areas Conservation Program, NCC hosted five Conservation Volunteers events to remove this highly invasive plant. Volunteers and staff removed almost 16 garbage bags (2,506 litres) of the aromatic invader, making room for native plants to flourish.
Conservation Volunteers at spring 2017 garlic mustard pull, Happy Valley Forest, ON (Photo by NCC)
This fall, NCC is getting some more help. Thanks to a new partnership with Box of Crayons, Jenna and her volunteers will be able to get even more garlic mustard out of the forest. Another four events are scheduled for this October.
Since opening their doors in 2002, Box of Crayons has been supporting NCC’s work across the country. For their 15th anniversary, Box of Crayons is marking the occasion by further supporting NCC’s work in the Happy Valley Forest.
Michael Bungay Stanier, founder of the business training firm, is proud of his organization’s support of NCC’s work.
“We think this is a good use of our small, corporate philanthropic fund. I am really happy to be supporting NCC and this specific project.”
For Michael, giving locally is important.
“For us, Happy Valley Forest is local, so that means we will have the opportunity to take the team out there, and potentially clients as well,” said Michael. “I always think donations to a charity feel more real when there is a tangible outcome. Our clients can read about Happy Valley Forest on our website and know that’s what we’re supporting and they’re supporting as well.”
For the past 15 years, NCC has helped protect more than 316 hectares (780 acres) of the Happy Valley Forest. Located at the edge of the GTA in King Township, it’s a refuge for more than 110 breeding bird species and is critical to the survival of nationally significant species, such as Acadian flycatcher and cerulean warbler.
So what can the public do to help stem the tide of this tasty trespasser?
“Everyone can help prevent the spread of this invasive species by recognizing what this plant looks like at different stages of life, brushing off any seeds on your pants and shoes before and after a hike (the seeds can be very tiny and hard to notice), keeping pets on leash, sticking to designated trails and, of course, joining a local garlic mustard pull!” says Jenna.