Springtime usually means long hours at the UConn Soil Testing Lab often keeping me there until 6 pm or later. Upon leaving one night I noticed a large creamy colored moving object in the lawn area in front of the lab. At first I thought maybe it was a dog but when it turned, I could see that it was a rather large eastern striped skunk. I am guessing it may be a male as they are reportedly larger than the female and this is really a good sized animal. He does not seem to mind me observing or photographing him although I must say, I have not ventured any closer than about 50 feet!
As expected, the skunk was digging up the grass in search of earthworms, grubs and other insects. They also eat fruit, grains, nuts, small animals, eggs and garbage. I thought I would find the ground all torn up the next day but there were just some shallow, cone-shaped holes. The lawn area here is somewhat sparse anyways so damage would probably be more noticeable on a lush, healthy lawn.
Eastern striped skunks are found throughout the U.S., except in the dry Southwest, and also in southern Canada. They are very adaptable creatures and are found both in urban and suburban settings. They prefer low bushy habitats.
They typically have one litter a year which averages 6 pups. I will keep an eye on for mom and any young’uns. Skunks are a member of the Mustelid family which also counts weasels, minks, martins, otters and fishers as members. While all these animals produce a strong-smelling liquid in their scent glands, only skunks can spray this liquid on perceived threats. While I have not attempted to verify this, apparently a perturbed skunk will stamp its feet and arch its tail over its back before spraying.
Dogs seem not to understand this and often get in the line of fire, including one of mine, years back. After shampooing her several times with dishwashing soap, the smell still lingered. My husband, at that time, thought some men’s cologne would cut the scent and to this day every time I smell this particular fragrance, I only think of skunk!
Whenever skunks or moles are found digging in the yard, many people’s first thoughts are to treat for grubs. We encourage folks to first find out whether or not they have a grub problem and then to treat it in the most efficacious way possible. Contact the horticulturists at the UConn Home & Garden Education Center for help on determining whether grubs are a problem and when the best time for treatment is.
Whether walking along side roads, biking or driving, one can’t help but notice the proliferation of wildflowers now in bloom – trilliums, wood anemones, bloodroot, bluets, dog-tooth violets and those pretty white flowers. Those pretty white flowers are an invasive species from Europe, garlic mustard. It may have been brought over to use as a food plant or for medicinal purposes.
Garlic mustard has rounded and toothed basal leaves but as the flower stalk emerges the leaves on it are toothed and triangular. The white flowers have four petals, like other mustard family relatives and are about a quarter inch in diameter.
The problem with garlic mustard, like many non-native plant species, is that it spreads rapidly in shady, moist habitats outcompeting our native plants. It does this several ways. First up to 7,900 seeds can be produced by a single plant! So, even if just a fraction of the seeds germinate and the seedlings survive, that is often enough to populate an area. In general, garlic mustard plants are biennial in growth habit. That means that seeds germinate and the plant grows vegetatively in year one followed in the second year by production of flowers and seeds. This tough plant begins second year growth almost as soon as the snow melts in March and April and it forms a decent size basal rosette of leaves which cover and shade out any nearby smaller and slower growing native plants.
Mature garlic mustard plants are believed to exude allelopathic chemicals which interfere or harm neighboring plants and also beneficial fungi that form symbiotic relations with our native plants. There is also a possible earthworm and garlic mustard connections. As non-native earthworms consume forest floor duff layers, they make these areas more amenable to the germination of garlic mustard seeds. It is also possible that increased earthworm activity may increase the soil pH slightly and since garlic mustard growth is retarded on extremely acidic soils, any increase would be to the benefit of garlic mustard. Another factor in its spread is that deer won’t eat this plant!
But garlic mustard can be consumed by us humans and frankly, the early young shoots are not that bad tossed into salads and stir fries. There are a number of recipes on-line. Do think about where you would be collecting them from as garlic mustard is an abundant roadside plant but soils in those areas could contain lead, gasoline and other contaminants.
If eating this invasive is not to your tastes, then consider starting a Garlic Mustard Challenge. This is a contest each spring to see which group of individuals can pull up the most garlic mustard plants. If you do notice garlic mustard on your property or in other areas that you care for, pull it up and bag it, flame it, dig it up, or spray it with an herbicide. This invasive species is doing much damage to our native plant populations and biodiversity in Connecticut.
Good gardening to you!