Ramps, also called wild leeks or spring onions, are a native perennial wildflower that provides beauty as well as the “first greens” of early spring. Smooth, long, broad, oval-shaped leaves unfurl, persisting for several weeks before withering away, just as one-inch spherical clusters of small, creamy-white flowers emerge from their papery sheaths. Flowers sit atop slender, smooth leafless stems with a white or burgundy base. As the flowers wither and dry, they reveal pearly black seeds that hold tight to the seed heads, providing contrast against winter snow.
Ramps naturally grow in rich, moist, deciduous uplands and forests, usually under large, mature, deciduous trees in deep shade and leaf litter. Their growing popularity among finer restaurants and farm markets has led to intense harvesting and a concerning decline in wild populations. In Ohio, ramps may not be collected on state or federal properties, however a private collection can be established in a shade garden or along the edge of a woodland bed. Patience is required; plants grown from seeds will be ready to harvest in 7 years. Bare root plants, however, may be harvested in 2-3 years. As plants mature and start to produce seeds, they can be harvested to start new patches, or crumbled down into the soil to help thicken your current patch. They can take 2 years to germinate.
In the wild, ramps are often found growing alongside spring ephemerals that enjoy the same growing conditions, such as trillium, bloodroot, trout lily and Dutchman’s breeches.
Grows 6-10” tall.
Likes a spot with morning sun that shades over as trees begin to leaf out.
Ramps need consistently moist soil and near-neutral pH with high content of organic matter, such as rotting leaves or heavy compost.
Many types of native bees visit the plant for pollen and nectar, including halictid, masked, mason, and bumble bees (an example of each is pictured here, in order). Other frequent pollinators include honey bees and syrphid flies. Leek moths prefer cultivated leeks, but will also feed on ramps.
Not a popular browsing plant for deer or other mammals.
Medicinal, Edible and Other Uses:
Native Americans used parts of the plant as a spring tonic and for colds, earaches, and insect stings.
The leaves and bulbs are an edible delicacy. They are used for their garlicky-onion flavor in many dishes and can be pickled for yearlong enjoyment. Ramp pesto is must-try for any ramp aficionado.
Though the bulbs are considered by some to be the best for eating, digging them up kills the plant. If over-harvested, it can take up to 150 years for wild populations to fully recover. Harvesting the leaves is more sustainable, and better yet, harvesting a single leaf from each plant. While harvesting all the leaves won’t kill the plant, it weakens them by depriving them of photosynthesis.
While waiting to harvest, conside trying out garlic mustard, a delicious, but invasive introduction from Europe that is causing serious decline in our spring ephemerals.
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