Ramps (Allium tricoccum), are one of the hottest new food trends, and when they appear on restaurant’s menu they all but symbolize the willingness to source produce locally. This in turn has led every Tom, Dick, and Harry with a foraging instinct to go out and search for this new delicacy, with disregard as to whether they are harvesting on private or public land, and even more disregard for the sustainability of the practice.
Ramps are not a domesticated species. Their cultivation is a slow and laborious process, and their ability to propagate in the wild is also tenuous.
Fresh seeds quickly lose their viability if allowed to dry out, and must undergo an immediate warming period once ripe, followed a few months later by a cold period. In cultivation, this cycle can be artificially replicated using refrigeration by a process called seed stratification and must be tailored to each individual species’ requirements.
Due to weather fluctuations, sometimes these requirements are not met in nature in any given year, and Allium tricoccum seeds may take an additional cycle to germinate; in other words, up to 18 months. Division can be a more reliable propagation method, but even this is time consuming; it can take 2 to 3 years for a transplanted bulb to produce viable offsets.
Because this species is so slow to spread, the rule of thumb is that no more than 10% of any given population should be harvested in a year for the colony to be sustainable. When we see images of large fields of ramps, we should interpret them as being the equivalent of old-growth forests. But unlike trees, when you come across a patch of ramps, it’s impossible to tell if someone already harvested the maximum sustainable amount of 10%. If 10 people harvest the same patch, that colony is dead.
Many people are aware of the plight of American ginseng, and that what used to be considered its harvest, is now seen as poaching. Maybe it’s time to sound the alarm for Allium tricoccum, before this species is added to the endangered list, and if you do buy ramps, please make sure they come from a reputable grower and were not harvested from the wild.
Interested in buying some starter plants and cultivating them yourself? See our Allium tricoccum page .