Ramps – Allium tricoccum

Overall At-Risk Score: 50

Latin Name:

Allium tricoccum
Allium tricoccum var. Burdickii, previously Allium burdickii

Common Name:

Ramps; Wild Leek, Ramsons
var. Burdickii is often referred to as Narrowleaf Ramps or Narrowleaf Wild Leek

Family:

Amaryllidaceae

Subfamily: Allioideae

Lifespan:

Perennial; its annual lifecycle is rather short, staying dormant for 4-6 months of the year depending on the local climate.

Reproduction:

Ramps only begin to produce seeds after 7 years of growth, and even after that point, can only flower and produce seeds under ideal spring conditions. During seed production, the plant’s scape⁠—the flowering stalk that is a prominent characteristic of the Allium genus⁠—emerges around the time of leaf die back in late May. Flower development takes roughly a month under most conditions, where full bloom occurs in late June. Seed heads ripen and disseminate seeds in October and November.

Though seed production is often limited, this species is capable of multiplying its bulbs through asexual budding, often creating dense patches or colonies of itself. Allium triccocum relies predominantly on asexual reproduction, whereas A. triccocum var. Burdickii has been found to rely on sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction equally.

Geographic Region:

Their general planting region expands from Minnesota to Illinois to Maine. Specifically, Ramps are found in the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

Habitat:

Ramps need a dense canopy cover, well-drained soil, and a deep bed of organic matter on the forest floor. They prefer cooler, north-facing slopes.

Ability to withstand disturbance and over harvest:

Being a slow-growing, bulbous perennial, Ramps are at great risk of losing entire populations due to over harvest. Many regions have cultural limitations on when and how much to harvest, but due to lack of solid regulations and widespread demand, this plant is still at risk in many places.

Researchers have modeled population disturbance and recovery times after harvest events of different intensities. Despite varying results from recovery models, it is clear that excessive and unsustainable harvesting from a population will take many years to heal. If an entire population is harvested, it could take 150 years for it to fully recover.

Status of Endangered/Threatened(by state):

Allium tricoccum is listed as being of “Special Concern” in Maine, Rhode Island, and also Tennessee, where it is also listed as “Commercially Exploited.”
A. Burdickii is listed as “Endangered” in New York, and “Threatened” in Tennessee.

Additionally, in the spring of 2002, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park banned the collection of ramps after a 5-year study indicated a decline in the park’s ramp populations.
Allium tricoccum is not yet listed on the IUCN Red List.

Part of Plant Used/Active Medicinal Compounds:

The entire plant is often used for culinary purposes, although most people concerned with preserving populations will only harvest the leaf, leaving the bulb to reproduce.

Medicinally, ramps play an important part of a healthy diet for many in the Appalachian region. This plant has been shown to culture a healthy digestive tract, as well as reduce cholesterol and lipids within the circulatory system. Native Americans used the leaves to treat colds and only used the bulbs as a purge, and a tonic was used to treat intestinal worms.

Vulnerability of Habitat/Changes of Habitat Quality and Availability:

The maple-hardwood forest this species relies on is at risk from logging and increased urban development.

Demand and Relative Acreage Needed to Meet Demand:

Demand has increased exponentially in the last two decades as more and more gourmet restaurants feel obligated to have ramps on the menu, even out of season.

There is no official data collection to determine how many ramp plants are harvested each year, but estimates suggest it would take at least 2 million plants annually to meet current market demand, and that figure could be very low.

Wild Harvesting Impact On Other Species:

Digging up whole ramps, as is typical for modern wild harvesters, is a major disturbance to the soil, disrupting the ecosystem and allowing invasive plants to become established.

Recommendations for industrial and home use:

Although the seeds are slow-growing and careful horticultural practices are necessary, cultivation through forest farming is a viable option in most areas of its native range.

An easy way to increase sustainability both in cultivation and wild harvesting is to only harvest the leaves, and ideally leaving the ramp with one leaf to continue photosynthesis, which would allow it to continue to grow and reproduce after harvest.

It is important to highlight that the Cherokee have used the method of only harvesting the leaves for centuries and that it has been documented that Europeans also use this method of only harvesting the leaves for Allium ursinum native to Europe and Asia.

Citations

  • Chamberlain, J. L., Beegle, D., & Connette, K. L. (2014). Forest farming ramps. Lincoln, Neb.: USDA National Agroforestry Center.
  • Davis-Hollander, L. 2011. Ramps (Wild Leeks): When is Local not Kosher?, 2011 www.grit.com/food/ramps-wild-leeks.aspx#axzz2yCpIbusb
  • Edgar, B., Brubaker, H., & Tuminelli, K. (2012). Plugging the Leak on Wild Leeks: The Threat of Over-harvesting Wild Leek Populations in Northern New York. NY: St. Lawrence University.
  • Hoyle, Z. 2004. Are ramp festivals sustainable? United States Department of Agriculture – Forest Service. Web 4 Apr. 2012. www.srs.fs.usda.gov/news/65
  • Janick, J. (2002). Trends in new crops and new uses: Proceedings of the Fifth National Symposium New Crops and New Uses: Strength in Diversity, Atlanta, Georgia, November 10-13, 2001. Alexandria, VA: ASHS Press.
  • Moyer, Ben. 2008. Ramps bring signs of spring throughout Appalachia; wild leek festivals signal the start of the season. Pittsburgh Post – Gazette B1.
  • USDA. (n.d.). Plants Profile for Allium Allium burdickii (narrowleaf wild leek). Retrieved July 22, 2019, from https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=ALBU2
  • USDA. (n.d.). Plants Profile for Allium tricoccum (ramp). Retrieved July 22, 2019, from https://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=ALTR3