Published on April 17th 2012Home » Columnists » Outdoors with Isaac Hunter » Wild Garlic
There is a small (still) but possibly growing potential problem in Lanark County and other areas of the province about which outdoors folk may be interested to learn.
It’s the harvesting of wild leeks, or wild garlic or ramps as they’re often called.
The leeks emerge in spring, in April and early May. By mid summer the plants have flowered and gone to seed. The broad, succulent leaves then die back and disappear. The small, insignificant appearing seed heads remain until the seeds have dispersed.
The plants grow in dense, luxuriant groups. But they reproduce slowly and, once removed, even if a few plants are left, it’s a very long time before a cluster can regenerate.
Wild leeks are a great delicacy for some people. Mostly folks like them pickled or made into a delicious creamed soup. Leeks enjoy a growing popularity in upscale restaurants throughout North America.
The problem is potential over harvesting. Because leeks are so popular they are often “harvested” and sold by less than scrupulous people. In season you can find quantities on sale in the Ottawa market.
Because of previous destructive harvesting practices, wild leeks are a protected species in Quebec. Residents there are limited to an annual possession of 50 plants per person except in parks where no harvesting is permitted. These rules don’t do much to deter some folks however, who find a ready market for the plants in Ontario, especially in the Ottawa area.
There are no restrictions on harvesting leeks in Ontario – on private property with permission and on open Crown land for personal (not commercial) use. Harvesting for commercial use requires a land use permit from the appropriate Ministry of Natural Resources office.
Leeks, and other plants, may not be harvested in Ontario provincial parks and nature reserves.
Wild leeks are considered a species of special concern in Maine, Rhode Island and Tennessee.
It’s interesting also to note that the plants are said to have given Chicago it’s name in the 17th century – from a description by Rene-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, from a thick growth of ramps known as Chicagou to the Indians there
Due to the scarcity of plants in Quebec people are thought to be now moving into Ontario, including Lanark County, in search of the plants. They work the rural and uninhabited concession roads, sometimes after dark. One Lanark Co. landowner I spoke with told of having to call for police assistance and having to extinguish a fire left behind in his maple lot. Brush fires are not fun anytime, but especially not in early spring when the fire hazard is high and all burning is prohibited in most local townships.
At this time it isn’t known precisely how many complaints have been made about trespassers harvesting wild leeks. OPP staff are familiar with the problem and tell us there have been at least some complaints