Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an obligate biennial herb of the cabbage family (Brassicaceae), also known as the mustard flowers. It has dark-green, kidney-shaped basal leaves with scalloped edges, 6-10 cm diameter. Stem leaves are alternate, sharply-toothed, triangular or deltoid, and average 3-8 cm long and wide, gradually reducing in size towards the top of the stem. All leaves have pubescent petioles 1-5+ cm long. New leaves produce a distinct garlic odor when crushed. The fragrance fades as leaves age, and is virtually non-existent by fall.
Plants usually produce a single unbranched or few-branched flower stalk, although robust plants have been recorded with up to 12 separate flowering stalks. Flowers are produced in spring (usually April to May) in terminal racemes, and occasionally in short axillary racemes. Some plants produce additional axillary racemes in mid-summer. Flowers are typical of the mustard family, consisting of four white petals that narrow abruptly at the base, and 6 stamens, two short and four long. Flowers average 6-7mm in diameter, with petals 3-6mm long.
Seedlings emerge in spring and form basal rosettes by midsummer. Immature plants overwinter as basal rosettes. In the spring of the second year the rosettes (now adult plants) produce flower stalks, set seed, and subsequently die.
Alliaria petiolata invades forested communities and edge habitats. The plant has no known natural enemies in North America, is self-fertile, and is difficult to eradicate once established. Thus, the best and most effective control method for Alliaria petiolata is to prevent its initial establishment.
Cutting flowering Alliaria petiolata plants at ground level results in 99% mortality, and eliminates seed production. Cutting at 10 cm above ground level results in 71% mortality and reduces seed production by 98% (Nuzzo 1991). Cutting is most effective when plants are in full bloom and/or have developed siliques; plants cut earlier in the flowering period may have sufficient resources to produce additional flowerstems from buds on the root crown (Nuzzo, personal observation).