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Volunteers take on battle against weeds in Elmira woodlot

Volunteers Inge Rinne and Audrey Gleeson tackle the spread of garlic mustard in an Elmira woodlot. [Damon Maclean]

Its dead and dying ash trees culled last year in an effort to curb the spread of the emerald ash borer, an Elmira woodlot has a new nemesis to battle this year: garlic mustard.

The South Parkwood subdivision woodlot saw some 1,260 trees removed, soon followed by a community initiative to replant some of what was lost. Now, a group known as the Stewards of South Parkwood is taking on another invasive species.

Audrey Gleeson and her husband Pat reached out to the group last month, looking for assistance in fighting the spread of garlic mustard.  Five members of the team responded, helping to identify and remove the weed, identifiable by its heart-shaped leaves with little flowers on top.

All the empty space created by the removal of trees proved fertile ground for the invasive species.

“It was absolutely full in here,” said Gleeson.

“[It’s] partly the result from opening up the canopy, from when they cleared trees out. Some of it tends to be worse at entrances where there is light,” said Trees for Woolwich chair Inge Rinne of the situation in the woodlot.

Garlic mustard should be removed because it chokes out other forms of plant life, with Rinne noting it’s best to catch the plants before the flowers seed out. Within the area, there is a large population of wildflowers, including jack-in-the-pulpit and Ontario’s provincial flower, the trillium.

After garlic mustard is removed, the plants should be dried out and then burned in an area where the seeds will not cover in order to ensure the weeds won’t spread.

Gleeson has spent a considerable amount of time each day removing the weeds from the path, putting in an hour here and an hour there. Her efforts have paid off, as seen in the full loads she takes out. Passersby have asked her about the undertaking, which provides an opportunity to explain the severity of the problem, she said.

Rinne and Gleeson also intend to create an adopt-a-patch program, looking for volunteers to maintain small parts of the woodlot.

“If you have a five-foot-by-five-foot patch, then it’s not so daunting. That’s your job, and you can keep that area clear.”

South Parkwood is not the only place in the area that’s been subjected to mass overtaking by garlic mustard. Victoria Park and along the Kissing Bridge Trail are two other current hot spots for the plant. With the plant having a two-year cycle, Gleeson and Rinne are interested in seeing how it will spread next spring/summer following the group’s eradication efforts.

Trees for Woolwich intends to place some information about garlic mustard on its website to help raise awareness. 

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