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May 6, 2014

How Garlic Mustard Harms the West Virginia White Butterfly & How You Can Help

Two things that seem like they should be completely unrelated can have a negative relationship. Garlic mustard and the West Virginia White Butterfly present an example of this phenomenon.

 

Photo by Erik Nielsen, via North American Butterfly Association.

 

The West Virginia White Butterfly–Latin name Pieris virginiensis–is a small butterfly that only flies in April and May, frolicking in wooded areas of the northeastern United States. It relies on spring wildflowers for survival, like toothwort, trillium, and violets. Unfortunately, these butterflies are in a vulnerable position, threatened by deer overpopulation and forest fragmentation. Another threat, one which the public can help mitigate, is the spread of the invasive garlic mustard plant, which is overtaking local spring wildflower species. Efforts are being made to learn more about the white butterfly, so its habitat can be preserved, particularly the wildflowers that it depends on to survive.

 

AghH! Garlic Mustard!

Faux horror poster by Kerry Wixted.

Evil Nasty Invasive Garlic Mustard

Garlic mustard flowers; photo by Keri Leaman.

 

Garlic mustard is an invasive plant which displaces native species and disrupts the ecosystem. In addition, the West Virginia White Butterfly mistakes the garlic mustard for toothwort and lays eggs on it. Those eggs do not survive, likely due to the strong mustard oils. The garlic mustard growing season is over two years; in the second year it flowers and produces seed.

The public can help the West Virginia White Butterfly in two ways. First, if you see one of these butterflies during the months of April and May, record the information on this survey. Also record any sightings of toothwort. Learning more about the scope and substance of the West Virginia White Butterfly’s habitat will help preserve the species. In addition, pulling out garlic mustard is easy to do by hand. If you see a garlic mustard plant that hasn’t flowered yet, pull it out. If it has already flowered, you need to cut off the flower head and burn it to prevent the seeds from forming. It’s worth a little effort and inconvenience to help keep the sweet West Virginia White Butterfly safe.

 

Photo by Barbara Spencer, via North American Butterfly Association.

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Posted by Mark Contorno.

 

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