Allium tricoccum

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The name wild leek can also refer to Allium ampeloprasum, a species native to Europe. The name spring onion can also refer to scallions.
Wild leek or ramp
Wild Leeks.jpeg
Allium tricoccum
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Amaryllidaceae
Subfamily: Allioideae
Genus: Allium
Species: A. tricoccum
Binomial name
Allium tricoccum
Ait. 1789 not Blanco 1837[1]
 photo of sign for deep fried ramps and Mason Dixon Ramp Fest in Mt. Morris, Pennsylvania
Advertisement at Mason-Dixon Ramp Fest in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania, in 2010.

Allium tricoccum (commonly known as ramp, ramps, spring onion, ramson, wild leek, wood leek, and wild garlic)[2] is a North American species of wild onion widespread across eastern Canada and the eastern United States.[1] Many of these English names are used for other Allium species, particularly Allium ursinum.


Allium tricoccum is a bulb-forming perennial with broad, smooth, light green leaves, often with deep purple or burgundy tints on the lower stems, and a scallion-like stalk and bulb. Both the white lower leaf stalks and the broad green leaves are edible. The flower stalk appears after the leaves have died back, unlike the similar Allium ursinum, in which leaves and flowers can be seen at the same time. Ramps grow in close groups strongly rooted just beneath the surface of the soil.[3]


Allium tricoccum was first named in 1789 by the Scottish botanist William Aiton, in Hortus Kewensis, a catalog of plants cultivated in London's Kew botanic garden. The species had been introduced to Britain in 1770. The specific epithet tricoccum refers to the possession of three seeds.[4]


As of May 2014, the World Checklist of Selected Plant Families accepts two varieties:[5]

  • Allium tricoccum var. burdickii Hanes
  • Allium tricoccum var. tricoccum

This treatment is followed by other sources (e.g. the Flora of North America),[6] although the two taxa are sometimes treated as two species, Allium tricoccum and Allium burdickii.[7] A. tricoccum var. burdickii was first described by Clarence Robert Hanes in 1953; the epithet burdickii is in honor of Dr. J.H. Burdick who pointed out differences between what were then regarded as different "races" in letters to Asa Gray.[8] The variety was raised to a full species by Almut Gutter Jones in 1979.

The two varieties are distinguished by several features.[6] A. tricoccum var. tricoccum is generally larger than A. tricoccum var. burdickii: the bulbs are larger, the leaves are usually 5–9 cm (2.0–3.5 in) wide rather than 2–4 cm (0.8–1.6 in) wide and the umbels typically have 30–50 flowers rather than 12–18. Additionally, the leaf stalks (petioles) and leaf sheaths are usually purplish in var. tricoccum and white in var. burdickii. The leaves of var. burdickii also have less distinct stalks than those of var. tricoccum.


Allium tricoccum growing in its natural woodland environment.

In Canada, ramps are considered rare delicacies. Since the growth of ramps is not as widespread as in Appalachia and because of destructive human practices, ramps are a threatened species in Quebec. Allium tricoccum is a protected species under Quebec legislation. A person may have ramps in his or her possession outside the plant's natural environment, or may harvest it for the purposes of personal consumption in an annual quantity not exceeding 50 bulbs or 50 plants, provided those activities do not take place in a park within the meaning of the National Parks Act. The protected status also prohibits any commercial transactions of ramps; this prevents restaurants from serving ramps as is done in the United States. Failure to comply with these laws is punishable by a fine.[9] However, the law does not always stop poachers, who find a ready market across the border in Ontario (especially in the Ottawa area), where ramps may be legally harvested and sold.[10]

Ramps are considered a species of "special concern" for conservation in Maine, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.[11] They are also considered "commercially exploited" in Tennessee. Ramp festivals may encourage harvest in unsustainable quantities.

Common name[edit]

According to West Virginia University botanist Earl L. Core, the widespread use in southern Appalachia of the term "ramps" (as opposed to "wild leek" which is used elsewhere in the United States) derives from Old English:

The name ramps (usually plural) is one of the many dialectical variants of the English word ramson, a common name of the European bear leek (Allium ursinum), a broad-leaved species of garlic much cultivated and eaten in salads, a plant related to our American species. The Anglo-Saxon ancestor of ramson was hramsa, and ramson was the Old English plural, the –n being retained as in oxen, children, etc. The word is cognate with rams, in German, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, and with the Greek kromuon, garlic [...]. Wright’s English Dialect Dictionary (1904) lists as variants rame, ramp, ramps, rams, ramsden, ramsey, ramsh, ramsies, ramsy, rommy, and roms, mostly from northern England and Scotland.[12]

Culinary uses and festivals[edit]

Closeup of an Allium tricoccum bulb.

Allium tricoccum is popular in the cuisines of the rural uplands of its native region. It is regarded as an early spring vegetable with a strong garlic-like odor and a pronounced onion flavor.[13] Ramps also have a growing popularity in restaurants throughout North America.[14][15][16]

The plant's flavor, a combination of onions and strong garlic,[17][18][19] or "fried green onions with a dash of funky feet" in the words of food writer Jane Snow,[20] is adaptable to numerous cooking styles. In central Appalachia, ramps are most commonly fried with potatoes in bacon fat or scrambled with eggs and served with bacon, pinto beans and cornbread. Ramps can also be pickled or used in soups and other foods in place of onions and garlic.

  • The community of Richwood, West Virginia, holds the annual "Feast of the Ramson" in April. Sponsored by the National Ramp Association, the "Ramp Feed" (as it is locally known) brings thousands of ramp aficionados from considerable distances to sample foods featuring the plant. During the ramp season (late winter through early spring), restaurants in the town serve a wide variety of foods containing ramps.[21]
  • The city of Elkins, West Virginia, hosts the "Ramps and Rails Festival" during the last weekend in April of each year. This festival features a cook-off and ramp-eating contests, and is attended by several hundred people each year.[22]
  • The town of Cosby, Tennessee, bordering Great Smoky Mountains National Park, has held the largest and one of the oldest ramp festivals in the United States, the "Cosby Ramp Festival," on the first weekend in May since 1954. The festival has played host to as many as 30,000 visitors in years past, has been attended by ex-President Harry Truman, and has featured such notable musical acts as Tennessee Ernie Ford, Eddy Arnold, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, Minnie Pearl, and Brenda Lee. Besides the food, heritage music, dancing, and adulation of the ramp, each year a young woman is crowned "Maid of Ramps".[23]
  • The community of Flag Pond, Tennessee, hosts its annual Ramp Festival on the second Saturday each May. The festival features a wide variety of ramp-inspired foods, and includes music from an assortment of Appalachian groups. Hundreds of people attend the festival each year.[24]
  • The community of Whitetop, Virginia, holds its annual ramp festival the third weekend in May. It is sponsored by the Mount Rogers volunteer fire department and features local music from Wayne Henderson and other bands, along with a barbecued chicken feast complete with fried potatoes and ramps and local green beans. A ramp-eating contest is held for children and adults.[25]
  • An annual ramp convention in Haywood County, North Carolina has drawn as many as 4,000 participants a year since its inception circa 1925.[26]
  • The community of Huntington, WV holds an annual ramp festival referred to as Stink Fest. It is hosted by The Wild Ramp, an indoor farmers market.[27][28]

History and folklore[edit]

Chicago received its name from a dense growth of ramps near Lake Michigan in Illinois Country obeserved in the 17th century. The Chicago River was referred to by the plant's indigenous name, according to explorer Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, and by his comrade, the naturalist and diarist Henri Joutel.[13] The plant, called shikaakwa (chicagou) in the language of local native tribes, was once thought to be Allium cernuum, the nodding wild onion, but research in the early 1990s showed the correct plant was the ramp.[13][29]

The ramp has strong associations with the folklore of the central Appalachian Mountains. Fascination and humor have fixated on the plant's extreme pungency. Jim Comstock, editor and co-owner of the Richwood News Leader, introduced ramp juice into the printer's ink of one issue as a practical joke,[30] invoking the ire of the U.S. Postmaster General.[31]

The inhabitants of Appalachia have long celebrated spring with the arrival of the ramp, believing it to be a tonic capable of warding off many winter ailments. Indeed, ramp's vitamin and mineral content did bolster the health of people who went without many green vegetables during the winter.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Allium tricoccum". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  2. ^ "Allium tricoccum information from NPGS/GRIN". USDA GRIN Taxonomy. 23 January 2007. Retrieved 2 February 2012. 
  3. ^ "Cultivation of Ramps". North Carolina State University. Retrieved 19 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Aiton, William (1789). Hortus Kewensis 1.  Hortus Kewensis vol 1, page 428
  5. ^ "Search for Allium tricoccum". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Retrieved 24 May 2014. 
  6. ^ a b McNeal Jr., Dale W. & Jacobsen, T.D. "Allium tricoccum". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee. Flora of North America (online). Retrieved 2015-01-20. 
  7. ^ ITIS Standard Report Page: Allium burdickii. Retrieved 20 March 2010.
  8. ^ "Allium tricoccum". Retrieved 20 March 2010..
  9. ^ "Regulation respecting threatened or vulnerable plant species and their habitats". Gazette officielle. Éditeur officiel du Québec. 1 May 2014. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  10. ^ "Garlic lovers answer the call of the wild". Globe and Mail. 21 May 2007. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  11. ^ "NRCS: USDA Plants Profile and map: A. tricoccum". USDA. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  12. ^ Core, Earl L. (15 April 1973). "Cult of the Ramp Eaters". Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Reprinted in the same author's book: Core, Earl L. (1975). The Wondrous Year: West Virginia Through the Seasons. Grantsville, West Virginia: Seneca Books.  pp. 46–51.
  13. ^ a b c Zeldes, Leah A. (5 April 2010). "Ramping up: Chicago by any other name would smell as sweet". Dining Chicago. Chicago's Restaurant & Entertainment Guide, Inc. Retrieved 2 May 2010. 
  14. ^ "How Ramps Became Spring’s Most Popular, and Divisive, Ingredient". Grubstreet. 2013. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  15. ^ "Cult of ramps begins worship season early". The Wire. 2012. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  16. ^ "Ramps: How to cook and where to find this savory spring treat". Denver Post. 2014. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
  17. ^ Block, Eric (2010). Garlic and Other Alliums: The Lore and the Science. Cambridge, UK: Royal Society of Chemistry. ISBN 978-0-85404-190-9. 
  18. ^ Davies, Dilys (1992). Alliums: The Ornamental Onions. Portland: Timber Press. 
  19. ^ Woodward, Penny (1996). Garlic and Friends: The History, Growth and Use of Edible Alliums. South Melbourne: Hyland House. 
  20. ^ Snow, Jane (21 April 2004). "Hankering For Ramps". Akron Beacon Journal.  E1, E4-E5.
  21. ^ "Ramp Festivals, Feast of the Ramson Ramps". Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  22. ^ "Ramps & Rails Festival". West Virginia Department of Commerce. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  23. ^ "Cosby Ramp Festival". Tennessee Vacation. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  24. ^ "Flag Pond, Unicoi County, Tennessee". Retrieved 26 October 2011. 
  25. ^ "Whitetop Mountain Ramp Festival". Grayson County, VA website. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  26. ^ Core 1975, p. 51.
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^ Swenson, John F. (Winter 1991). "Chicago: Meaning of the Name and Location of Pre-1800 European Settlements". Early Chicago. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  30. ^ Miller, Tom D. (5 October 2012). "Jim Comstock". West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved 17 February 2013. 
  31. ^ "Ramps in the Ink". Goldenseal 20: 23. Winter 1994.  Comstock had been inspired by the scratch-and-sniff advertising for perfume and coffee in several local papers. The issue in question announced the Richwood Ramp Supper by lacing the printer's ink for the spring issue with ramp juice. According to Comstock, "We got a reprimand from the Postmaster General ... And we are probably the only paper in the United States that's under oath to the federal government not to smell bad".
  32. ^ Davis, Jeanine M.; Greenfield, Jacqulyn. "Cultivating Ramps: Wild Leeks of Appalachia". Purdue University. Archived from the original on 10 May 2011. Retrieved 6 May 2011. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Core, Earl Lemley (1945). "Ramps". Castanea 10:110-112.
  • Davies, D. (1992). Alliums: The Ornamental Onions. Portland: Timber Press. ISBN 0-88192-241-2. 
  • Facemire, Glen. (2009). Having your ramps and eating them too. Parsons, WV: McClain Printing. ISBN 978-0-87012-783-0. 
  • Woodward, P. (1996). Garlic and Friends: The History, Growth and Use of Edible Alliums. South Melbourne: Hyland House. ISBN 1-875657-62-2. 

External links[edit]