Ramps Are Blooming in My Woods!

Submitted a year ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

Monday in the Garden

Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are blooming in my woods now. Or, as a friend said, the blossoms are dancing in the woods. Small white flowers are standing on naked stems above the forest floor, but the leaves are long gone.

Ramps in spring

I think of ramps as an early spring treat, using them like onions or garlic, to which they are related. I have moved plants into woods near my home underneath maples and ash in deep, moist, rich soil and they have thrived. But I have never noticed the flowers until recently. Ramps are displaying clusters of small white flowers, each flower head about an inch or more wide with about 20 small blossoms. They stand on stiff stems about 12 inches long.

Ramp flower

I dug up a small clump of the blooming ramps and was delighted to see that each blossom is attached to a large bulb that I will eat in a stir fry. In the spring, I chop and use the leaves, too, but they are spring ephemerals, so the leaves have disappeared. Near each large bulb are 2 or more smaller bulbs, which I replaced in the soil to get bigger before harvesting. Generally only one bulb blooms in each clump.

Large ramp bulbs flower, the smaller ones do not.

But here is the exciting part: I realized that having found the flowers, I will be able to harvest seeds. According to an article written for the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association by Heather McCargo, seeds do not ripen until September, when they are black. One can harvest these, and plant in a flat, but that takes 2 years till they germinate – and perhaps 7 years to reach a size good for harvesting.

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Come September, I will harvest seeds, pull back the layer of leaves on the forest floor, sprinkle seeds, and replace the leaves. If they germinate, fine. If not, I have lost nothing. And planting seeds (as opposed to digging up plants and dividing the clumps of bulbs to re-plant) does not reduce the number of plants  in the woods. Ramps are slow to grow, and it is important not to harvest too many from any one location. 

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