July 21, 2017

Ramp It Up

Allium tricoccum

Allium tricoccum - Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

Allium tricoccum

Allium tricoccum - Photo courtesy of Glen Mittelhauser/Maine Natural History Observatory

Just its name, Allium tricoccum, should warn you of its onion-like tendency. If you were out in the wild, however, you would know it by its smell. Called ramp, wild leek, wild garlic and wild onion depending on where you live, A. tricoccum is native to Maine, its range stretching from Canada and south of the Mason-Dixon line. Found in moist woods, the plant puts up broad leaves early in spring that die back before the flower blossoms in June and July, the height reaching up to 20 inches. At the end of the flower stalk is a bulb. And if you think this is just another lowly wildflower, go do a search on “ramp festival” and you will find a number of celebrations in honor of this entirely edible plant that is one of the first spring greens. From New York state to West Virginia to Tennessee and beyond, a number of communities gather ramps in their leafy stage and then get together to eat and celebrate the ramp. It might be hard to stage a festival in Maine: The plant is listed as a special concern on the state’s endangered list, meaning that it’s rare, but not rare enough to be threatened.

Wild Wednesday is a collaboration of Garden Maine and Glen Mittelhauser of the nonprofit Maine Natural History Observatory, www.mainenaturalhistory.org.