There aren’t many wildflowers to see at this time of year, but in a few spots the woods are bright with short, white balls-on-sticks.
I have a confession to make that some of my friends will find surprising: foodie Elizabeth does not love the taste of ramps, aka wild leek (Allium tricoccum, Liliaceae).
However, wildflower enthusiast Elizabeth loves the flowers. Or at least the look of them, because they do smell like onion.
Each flower has six tepals, six stamens, and a single style. Multiple flowers are arranged on each umbel, which tops a single leafless stalk, making the plants look like balls on sticks. They stand about a foot tall.
In the springtime, of course, ramps are all leaves, but the leaves die back before the flowering stalk emerges. They do light up the understory.
Ramps range from Tennessee and North Carolina in the south to Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec in the north, largely to the east of the Mississippi River, with some occurrences west of that (mostly in Minnesota). In Maryland they’re found in scattered locations in the piedmont and ridge and valley physiographic provinces. Look for them in moist, rich woodlands, where they get sun in early spring but deep shade in early summer. (And please don’t forage them, unless you find them on private land, have the landowner’s permission, and collect with sustainable practices – ie, don’t take the whole plant.)
Ramps are listed as special concern in Maine and Rhode Island, special concern commercially exploited in Tennessee, and noxious weed in Arkansas, which is interesting considering that neither USDA PLANTS Database or BONAP have records for ramps anywhere in that state.