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Out & About: Volunteers take on garlic mustard in Lebanon

  • An area on the Mascoma Rail Trail filled with garlic mustard before volunteers cleared it on May 8, 2021. (Courtesy Amy Fortier)

  • The same area after five volunteers pulled the invasive species on May 8, 2021. (Courtesy Amy Fortier)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2021 9:46:06 PM
Modified: 5/12/2021 9:46:03 PM

LEBANON — Once you see it, you can’t not see it.

At least that’s the experience of the dedicated garlic mustard volunteers in Lebanon who are working this month to remove the invasive species from the city, with particular attention paid to the Northern Rail Trail and Mascoma River Greenway. While volunteers have been pulling garlic mustard for years, this year the Conservation Commission is putting bags and signs up along the walking trails to encourage more people to participate. Throughout May, the city will pick up the bags and dispose of them for free.

“It was kind of fun last year to do it,” Amy Fortier, who began removing garlic mustard on the rail trail last May during the state’s stay-at-home order, said in a phone interview last week. “It’s kind of addicting because you see it and then you’re like ‘I’m going to get ya.’ ”

Last Saturday, Fortier and four other volunteers cleared three spots on a half-mile stretch of the trail from parallel to Ice House Road and toward the Lebanon/Enfield town line, Fortier wrote in a follow-up email this week.

“It’s pretty easy to pull and the goal is to get most of the root out as well, otherwise it will come back,” Fortier said. “If 100 people walk by and 50 people pick one or two, that’s 100 plants that aren’t going to be creating more.”

The prime time for picking is now, when the small white flowers that make arlic mustard easier to identify are visible and before it goes to seed, continuing its spread, said Sarah Riley, vice chair of the Lebanon Conservation Commission. She is working on compiling a map of known garlic mustard clusters in the city.

“The reason why we’re pulling the garlic mustard is because it out-competes the native flora,” Riley said. “It really reduces plant species diversity in our forest understories.”

Riley first heard about garlic mustard removal initiatives taking place throughout the Upper Valley in 2014. Since then, she has worked to remove it. Last year — with more people using public trails due to the COVID-19 pandemic — she began reaching out to the public to ask others to help pull it.

“It can take years of successive pulling to get rid of the garlic mustard seed bank,” she said. “It can take years for the soil community to recover.”

Fortier and Riley said it can be fairly easy to pull, though folks need to make sure they remove the roots of the plant, which can be quite expansive. While garlic mustard is not known to burn or harm skin, volunteers may choose to wear gloves to protect their hands.

Long-term, Riley would like to see neighborhoods organize amongst themselves to remove the plants, similar to what Hanover does. Anne Bouchard has done both: She has pulled garlic mustard along the public trails in addition to talking to people in her Lebanon neighborhood when she notices it on their properties. She has also seen the results of her work: A few years ago she pulled a patch near her driveway, which she then marked with a stake. After three years of monitoring, it has not grown back.

“You can’t just let it sit and say, ‘I’ll just get to it later,’ the way I can with piles of clutter in the house,” Bouchard said. “Garlic mustard will just spread and grow, and now is a good time to pull it.”

She began working on the public trails along Mechanic Street last year, sometimes accompanied by friends. Bouchard would go out later in the afternoon when it was cooler.

“There was a definite reduction in social interactions last year, or an impact on social connection, so that was nice to be with other people working on something feeling like you’re doing something beneficial,” she said.

It should be noted that garlic mustard can be cooked and eaten. While Bouchard has heard she could make garlic mustard pesto, she said she’s content with the pesto she can make using basil from her garden.

“I don’t think I’d even enjoy eating it,” she said with a laugh. “I just want it to rot in a bag and disappear.”

Editor’s note: For more information about Lebanon’s garlic mustard initiative, contact recreation program coordinator Kristine Flythe at 603-448-5121 or kristine.flythe@LebanonNH.gov, and Mark Goodwin, of the Lebanon Planning and Development Department at 603-448-1457, ext. 1472 or Mark.goodwin@lebanonnh.gov.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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