Wild Mustard Discovery

This plant was among the original “weeds” I allowed to grow to maturity in my vegetable garden in 2020 to see what it would become.

Wild mustard leaves (young).
Photography copyright © Serena Kovalosky

The leaves of the young plant looked quite familiar to me from my childhood – it was designated as a weed by my mom and always pulled up as soon as discovered among the garden vegetables. I was curious to see how it would mature.

By July, the plant had grown into a spectacular “tree” with large leaves at the base of a stalk that branched out into numerous willowy branches with delicate yellow flowers at the tips. It grew to over five feet high.

Wild mustard leaves (mature)
Photography copyright © Serena Kovalosky
Wild mustard yellow flowers.
Photography copyright © Serena Kovalosky

One day, I noticed a slight vanilla scent whenever I walked by the garden, particularly in the morning. Could it be from this tree? I took a whiff of one of the flowers and sure enough! It smelled like vanilla! I was hooked. Every day that it bloomed I’d enjoy its intoxicating scent.

Wild Mustard (detail)
Photography copyright © Serena Kovalosky

By fall, it had dried to become an impressive tree-sculpture, with an intricate tangle of wispy branches.

Wild mustard tree, dried
Photography copyright © Serena Kovalosky
Close-up of mustard tree branches.
Photography copyright © Serena Kovalosky

Small birds would alight precariously on the fragile branches, placing one end of a branch in their beaks and running their beak all the way to the end. They were harvesting the small, black seeds for food.

At that moment I knew how that plant had arrived in my garden. Birds. And here I was, allowing it to go to seed to be consumed by birds who would carry those seeds far and wide.

The research I had been doing finally revealed what it was: wild mustard. Non-native, highly invasive. Once I identified it, I started seeing it everywhere, particularly in the fields of neighboring farms.

I started to think about how the plants we bring into our yards and gardens affect our neighbors and especially local farmers. I’m sure there will be many more invasive plants I’ll discover throughout The Eco-Garden Project and I will need to decide how to manage them.

In the meantime, I pulled up this magnificent tree and placed it in the garage as artistic stash for sculptural potential, knowing I’ll be tackling the question of invasives again and again over the next few years.

SerenaK signature

And Now for the Science…

Wild Mustard (Sinapis arvensis) is one of 3000+ species in the mustard family. Native to Eurasia. Now widespread throughout the United States. Its seeds can persist in the soil for many years. Flowering stems of the mature plant are upright and branched at the top. Flowers appear in clusters at the ends of branches. Seeds are round, smooth, and black or dark purple-brown.
Sources: Wikipedia, Cornell University – Agricultural Weed ID for New York State

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