Last week, our team wrapped up another season’s fieldwork studying the effect of different harvest techniques on ᎤᏩᏍᏗ (ramps).
Our Forest Resources Specialist, Tommy Cabe, is collaborating with Michelle Baumflek from the U.S. Forest Service on this research. The goal is to collect the scientific evidence supporting what Cherokees have long known: that cutting the shoots and leaving the roots is a more sustainable method of harvest than digging up entire bulbs.
Three years ago, Tommy and Michelle conducted “experimental harvests” in a series of plots in the woods. At some, they collected entire bulbs; at others, they cut the shoots without removing the roots from the ground. They also harvested different plots at different stages of spring in order to look at the effects of white-tip harvest versus intermediate and fully leafed out plants.
Now, Tommy and Michelle are returning to these plots each year in order to see how many plants have come back. At each plot, they record the precise location of each plant, and then check on it later in the summer and fall to see whether it flowers and how many seeds it produces.
This year was a relatively good one for seed production in ramps – like mast-bearing trees and many other plants, they have “off” and “on” years for flowers and seeds. But the percentage of seeds that go on to grow into successful adult plants is low – between the difficulty of germination and the death of many small plants in the seedling stage, ramps struggle to reproduce. That’s one of the reasons, along with overharvest and improper harvest, that we’re worried about losing them on our forest landscape.
It will take several more years for Tommy and Michelle’s study to reach completion. At that point, we will use their findings in working with our partners at various federal agencies on sustainable management of ramps. We hope to ensure this plant’s place in the southern Appalachian mountains and in the lives of the Cherokee people for many generations to come.