Allium Tricoccum - Aiton

Common Names: Wild Leeks, Ramps

Author: Amy Mote
Biology Major
University of Georgia
June 1, 1999

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Table of Contents

Higher Taxa:

Identification Guide:

Authority: Aiton

Scientific Reference: Illustrated Flora of Nothern States and Canada.

Type Specimens: No authentic specimen or holotype could be found. Only a drawing provided with the original description. A neotype was designated and is pictured in A Study of Wild Leek, and the Recognition of Allium burdickii(Liliaceae).

Location Where Deposited: Connecticut: New London CoA Study of Wild Leek, and the Recognition of Allium burdickii(Liliaceae).

Allium tricoccum, Ait., is a herbaceous spring ephemeral. Allium is the ancient name for garlic from Latin. Tricoccum is also from Latin meaning "three-seeded," which is referring to the seeds being grouped in units of three(Runkel and Bull). This plant has a very strong odor and differs from other alliums, including Wild Onions, Wild Garlics, and several Wild Leeks, in having its leaves and flowers above ground at different times, and in having broad leaves instead of narrow leaf blades(Roberts). It is also the most edible of the alliums and juice from any part of the plant has a strong onion-like odor(Roberts). In early spring, the slender bulbs put up green, paralled-reined leaves, at first tightly rolled, to form colonies on wooded slopes(Roberts). The bulb is ovoid, 6 cm long, and has a slightly fibrous coat. There are 2-3 leaves, which are expanded and elliptical(Roberts). The leaves are 8-12 inches (20-30 cm) long and ¾ -2 inches (1.9-5 cm) (Roberts) wide. Leaves appear in spring and usually are absent by flowering time. The leaves also resemble lily-of-the-valley. The petioles are 2-7 cm long and the sheath is 2-6 cm long. The spathe is 1.5-2 cm long, and splitting on one side(Britton). The flowers are white, and the pedicles are 1-2 cm long, spreading or ascending. The flowers are about ¼ inch long, and cluster into a loose ball at the top of a leafless stalk. The stalk may be 15 inches tall(Runkel and Bull). The fruits are arranged in a small ball-like cluster at the top of the stem and resemble a shiny buckshot(Runkel and Bull). The stamens and pistil are equalling or slightly shorter than the perianth. The perianth parts are narrow and orate, and 5-7 mm long. The capsule is 4-5 mm long( Mohlenbrock). The seeds are finely pebbled and globose. They are 3-3.5 mm in diameter(Britton).


Leaves oblong-lanceolate, absent at flowering time. (A. tricoccum.)

Leaves linear, present at flowering time.

Bulb-coats membranous, not fibrous-reticulated.

Umbel capitate; pedicels shorter than the flowers. (A. sibiricum.)

Umbel loose; pedicels much longer than the flowers.

Flowering umbel nodding.

Perianth campanulate, white or pink, its outer segmants acute.

(A. cernuum.)

Perianth urn-shaped, purple, outer segments obtuse or notched.

(A. alleghaniense.)

Flowering umbel erect.

Leaves flat or channeled, all nearly basal. (A. stellatum.)

Leaves terete, hollow; flowers replaced by bulblets.

Filaments with a tooth on each side. (A. carinatum.)

Filaments simple, not toothed. (A. vineale.)

Bulb-coats fibrous-reticulated.

Capsule not crested.

Flowers mostly replaced by bulbets; scape 8' tall. (A. canadense.)

Flowers rarely replaced by bulbets.

Scape 1° -2° tall;pedicels 8"-12" long; perianth-segmants thin. (A. mutabile.)

Scape 4'-8" tall; pedicels 4"-6" long; perianth-segmants rigid in fruit. (A. Nuttallii.)

Capsule-valves with 2 short crests. (A. reticulatum.)


Allium tricoccum
Photo Taken By Barry Glick


Allium tricoccum Aiton

North America:
Continental United States; Canada
Yes Nault, A. and Gagnon, D.,
Eastern North America:
United States east of Mississippi;
Ontario and eastern Canada
YesNault, A. and Gagnon, D., 1993
Southeastern United States:
YesJones, 1979
Southern Appalachian States:
YesJones, 1979
Coastal PlainYesMellinger, 1984
PiedmontYesMellinger, 1984
Blue Ridge MountainsYesJones, 1979
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
YesJones, 1979
Ridge and ValleyYesJones, 1979
Cumberland PlateauYesJones, 1979
GeorgiaYesMellinger, 1984
Clarke County, GeorgiaNoJones, 1979


Geographic distribution of Allium tricoccum in the United States.

Geographic distribution of Allium tricoccum in Canada.

Natural History:

Allium tricoccum is a spring ephemeral that has a short photosynthetic period. When the leaves develop, storage compounds are synthesized before the forest canopy has closed. The reserve compounds are stored in the bulb. The leaves decay shortly afterwards(Nault and Gagnon). Allium tricoccum is atypical and has separate photosynthetic and reproductive phases. A mature plant produces a single scape and emerges before the leaf senescence. This develops slowly and produces an umbel of self-compatible flowers which blooms in July(Nault and Gagnon). Ripe seeds are exposed 4-6 weeks later. The leaves and scape are started within the bulbs in autumn (September), this is to allow rapid spring emergence. This species can also reproduce asexually. The bulb division results from lateral bud development(Nault and Gagnon). Below is a diagram of the life cycle of Allium tricoccum.

Allium tricoccum
life cycle

Photo from Nault and Gagnon, Journal of Ecology

This is a diagram of the general life cycle of Allium tricoccum. The classes are as follows: 0, seeds; S1-S6, sterile ramets; F6, flowering ramet; V5, vegetative recruit. Of the several classes of vegetative recruits (V3-V6)and flowering ramets (F5-F7), only V5 and F6 are shown to simplify the diagram(Nault and Gagnon).
Allium tricoccum is flexible enough to grow under various environmental conditions, and not just under forest canopies. Allium tricoccum can grow in an open agriculture field due to tolerance to full sunlight, as long as abundant soil moisture is available(Nault and Gagnon). During the growing season, nutrient soils are important because young plants consume all of the reserves in their bulbs for growth(Nault and Gagnon). Their root system is superficially buried in soil, and is easily exposed to water or heat stress. They depend on external resources, like its bulb, to resume growth(Nault and Gagnon).
Allium tricoccum leaves are rich in nitrogen, magnesium and calcium. Reserves accumulate in the bulbs and gradually decreases in biomass as reproductive structures mature(Nault and Gagnon). When the leaves decompose they release calcium to the soil where it can be picked up by the roots(Nault and Gagnon).
Death is caused by falling trees or branches, which block leaf expansion, by overcrowding, or by clump death where a disease could have gotten in the litter(Nault and Gagnon).
Seeds are exposed after ripening but remain attached to the scape. The flexible scape may act as a catapult when touched and the seeds are thrown. Rain may also was the seeds away(Nault and Gagnon).

How to Encounter:

Allium tricoccum can be found in woodlands and forests ranging from Canada in the north, through Minnesota, and Iowa, and south to Tennessee and Georgia. It grows on moist and rich soils which are periodically flooded. It develops it's leaves in May, flowers during June and July and lives until September(Mohlenbrock).

General Information:

The American Indians and pioneers made use of the Wild Leek leaves and bulbs for seasoning. They used it for bland or tasteless foods. The bulbs were also served as an emergency food supply. The pioneer women, in some cases, pickled the bulbs and considered them a delicacy. Insect stings were treated by rubbing juice of a crushed bulb on the affected area. The tea of a bulb could effectively induce vomiting(Runkel).
When the Cherokees gathered the bulbs they cut or broke off the little stub under the bulb and replanted it so the plant would continue to grow. This was an excellent example of resource conservation because the roots would have been discarded before use of the plant anyway(Runkel).
The Wild Leek is disliked by the dairymen. This is because when eaten by cows, it would give off a strong and disagreeable flavor to milk(Runkel).
There are ramp festivals as a part of the American folklore in the Appalachian Mountain and Plateau regions. The foliage and bulbs are cooked and eaten raw in salads(Roberts).


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Links to other Ecology sites:

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National PLANTS
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Link to the National Plant Data
National Plant
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Link to ITIS
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  1. Britton, N.L. et al. Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States and Canada. New Era Printing Company, Lancaster, PA. 1913; 1:497

  2. Jones, A.G. A Study of Wild Leek, and the Recognition of Allium burdickii (Liliaceae). Systematic Botany, 4, 29-43.

  3. Mellinger, Marie B. 1984. Atlas of the Vascular Flora of Georgia. Studio Designs Printing. Milledgeville, GA.

  4. Mohlenbrock, Robert H. Flowering Plants lilies to orchids. Southern Illinois University Press. 1970; 75-80.

  5. Nantel, P., Gagnon, D. and Nault, A. 1996. Population viability analysis of american ginseng and wild leek harvested in stochastic enviroments. Conservation Biology, 10, 608-621.

  6. Nault, A. and Gagnon, D., 1988. Seasonal biomass and nutrient allocation patterns in wild leek (Allium tricoccum Ait.), a spring geophyte. Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, 115, 45-54.

  7. Nault, A. and Gagnon, D., 1993. Ramet demography of Allium tricoccum, a spring ephemeral, perennial forest herb. Journal of Ecology, 81, 101-119.

  8. Runkel, S.T. and Bull, A.F. Wild flowers of Iowa Woodlands. Iowa State University Press. 1987; 150-151.

  9. Roberts, June Season of Promise.Ohio University Press. 1993.

  10. Vasseur, L., Gagnon, D. and Simon, J.P., 1990. Isoenzymatic variability among populations and varieties of wild leek (Allium tricoccum Ait.). Biochem. Syst. Ecol., 18, 321-324.

  11. Vasseur, L., Gagnon, D. 1994. Survival and growth of Allium tricoccum Ait. transplants in different habitats. Biological Conservation, 68, 107-114.


Special thanks to Daniel Gagnon for his help on this project.

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