The mustard or cabbage family of plants includes plants we grow and eat such as broccoli, cabbage and radish. Many members of the family, though not native to the Catskills, have become so widespread and naturalized that they are a significant component of the local vegetation. Some have become weeds and one, in particular, is actually an enemy.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an invasive plant in the mustard family blooming right now throughout the Catskills. It has white flowers with four petals arranged in a cross, heart-shaped leaves with toothed edges, and when the leaf is crushed between the fingers, a garlicky odor is released, hence the name Garlic Mustard.
Why is it a butterfly foe? It has started to dominate even clearings in the forest, which is the habitat of the native wildflower Toothwort formerly known to botanists as Dentaria, now known as Cardamine. Toothwort is outcompeted by Garlic Mustard in these forest clearings, to the detriment of the Toothwort. Toothwort happens to be the preferred food of one of our native butterflies, the West Virginia White.
So as Garlic Mustard displaces Toothwort in our forests, the butterfly loses habitat, and becomes rarer.
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