COHASSET — The environmental group Wild Cohasset has been organizing “weed pulls” all over the South Shore, and is branching out on Saturday, May 7 to tackle the invasive species of non-native plants at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo.
The goal is to help the wild animals that don’t live behind bars or in enclosures at the zoo — songbirds, butterflies, bees, and other local creatures — that are hurt by the invasive plants.
Volunteers will spend two hours, from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., on the zoo’s 72-acre grounds ripping up garlic mustard — a prolific flowering plant whose roots send out a chemical that makes the soil toxic for native plants that wildlife need to survive.
Another target is black swallow-wort, an invasive vine that is harmful to monarch butterflies.
“They mistake it for milkweed [which monarch caterpillars rely on for food], and when the little caterpillars hatch they have nothing to eat and die,” said Lisey Good, who founded Wild Cohasset.
Good organized the first WeedFest in Cohasset in 2017 when volunteers filled 60 large trash bags with about 12,000 garlic mustard plants. One of the volunteers is on the board of Zoo New England, which operates the Franklin Park Zoo and the Stone Zoo in Stoneham. Franklin Park officials were eager to partner with Wild Cohasset, Good said.
Michelle Martinat, curator of horticulture at Zoo New England, said the zoo has been working to spread awareness of the importance of native vegetation and has planted several hundred native species on its grounds over the past two years.
“What we are really excited about is putting the zoo’s conservation mission into practice,” she said.
Good said volunteers are still needed for the May 7 event, and will be welcome to stay afterward to visit the zoo for free.
Volunteers should wear long sleeves and pants and bring gloves. Volunteers under 15 must be accompanied by an adult.
No experience is necessary, and volunteers will be shown how to recognize the unwanted plants.
Garlic mustard may look innocuous — even pretty with its heart-shaped garlic-scented leaves that lie in low clusters the first year, then climb up to 2- to 3-feet-high stalks topped with clusters of small white flowers and later, shiny black seed pods.
But the rapidly spreading weed is pushing out native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees and threatening wildlife all over the state. And while botanists are looking for a biological control for the weed, for now the best way to get rid of garlic mustard is to pull it up by the roots and destroy it.
“We treat it like a biohazard,” Good said.
More information and registration are available at https://naturegroupie.org/experiences/weeding-songbirds-butterflies-zoo-new-england
Johanna Seltz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.