Allium ampeloprasum, commonly known as wild leek, broadleaf wild leek, or elephant garlic, is a group of hundreds of different bulbous biennial flowering plants. It belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family, which has around 1600 different species divided over an impressive number of approximately 70 different genera. The genus the wild leek falls into is Allium, making it closely related to onions.
Five different cultivars and varieties of Allium ampeloprasum have been identified. They are leeks — the popular garden vegetable — as well as pearl onion (button baby), Persian leek (Levant leek), kurrat, and elephant garlic. To differentiate elephant garlic from other wild leeks, it is scientifically called Allium ampeloprasum var. (variety) ampeloprasum.
All the parts of the elephant garlic can be eaten, and some people consider them to be very tasty, but they should be eaten in moderation. These flowering plants are not only grown because they might enable you to make some very interesting salads and teas, however, but also because they are beautiful to look at.
These wild leeks, which are biennials, are fairly easy to grow and care for once you know how — but before you consider adding Allium ampeloprasum to your garden, there are some things you need to be aware of.
About Wild Leek
- Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum is a bulbous biennial, which means that its entire life cycle completes in just two growth seasons. While elephant garlic produces beautiful, slender, and moss-green leaves, the plant is most notable for its single stalk, which produces a beautiful, spherical, bloom during the second year.
- Although wild leeks were originally native to southern Europe and Asia, as well as Macronesia, they have since become popular all over the globe, where they thrive in diverse regions. In the United States, Allium ampeloprasum is hardy to USDA zones three through nine. In the UK, it is most common in southwest England.
- Elephant garlic and other wild leek species have traditionally been used for medicinal purposes, specifically to treat cold-related symptoms such as sore throat, cough, and mucus production.
- All parts of Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum are also considered edible. The flowers and young leaves of the elephant garlic are sometimes used in salads or as a sandwich ingredient, where they have a pleasant slightly bitter, onion-like, flavor. The bulbs or its cloves, which will Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum produce in its second year, can also be eaten — both raw or roasted. Likewise, the stem can be used to produce a unique tea.
- Despite the edible and medicinal properties that elephant garlic has, these plants can produce toxic reactions in sensitive people, who react to the N-propyl disulfide contained in this plant. If you notice any strange symptoms, including vomiting, after eating elephant garlic, you would be advised to seek medical attention promptly.
- Like all members of the Allium genus, Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum is problematic for many pets. Dogs sometimes, and cats often, like to munch on various onion species, but all onions are poisonous to cats and dogs. Small amounts will simply be expelled through vomiting, but it is important to keep your pets away from elephant garlic and to call a veterinarian if they happen to ingest larger quantities.
- Elephant garlic is interesting in that gardeners have two opportunities to plant it every year — once during spring, and again during the fall.
- If you are also a fan of video gaming, you might be interested to know that elephant garlic appears in Minecraft as one of the rarer flower species.
- Wild leeks are fairly resistant to pests and diseases. They can occasionally be attacked by thrips, slugs, or onion maggots, but deer, rabbits, and voles leave wild leaks alone. In fact, elephant garlic is attractive to gardeners not just because the plant can be eaten and because it is charming, but also because having elephant garlic around can discourage unwanted wildlife from visiting your garden.
Wild Leek Features: An Overview
- Quite a few closely related species are often called “wild leek”. Elephant garlic, or Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum, is a bulbous biennial vegetable, which produces elongated leaves as well as clusters of small, typically lavender or purple colored, flowers that bloom during the plant’s second year of life.
- These wild leeks typically grow to be two to three feet tall, which is 60 to 90 centimeters. When you count their foliage, they can have a spread of one to two feet (30 to 60 centimeters) wide.
- The foliage of the wild leek typically has a muted green color, and these simple leaves are graceful and elongated, with smooth edges. They can be as tall as six inches (15 centimeters), and will bend and sway in the wind. The leaves are not only edible, but also have a pleasant scent while they are growing in your garden.
- The beautiful flowers of the wild leek (elephant garlic) form umbels, creating a spherical shape as they grow on stalks that originate from a central point. These flowers are famous for being lavender in color, but can also sometimes be a deeper purple or occasionally even white. These plants only flower during their second year of life!
- The stems are green or white, and can be eaten raw or cooked!
- When first planted, elephant garlic will have a single bulb. While the bulb itself is white, it is covered in a white-purple paper-like shell. In the second year, this bulb will usually divide, producing multiple “bulbils”, or cloves, which are also edible. When that does not happen, which is the case sometimes, the bulb will simply be larger during the second year.
- Wild leeks also produce capsule fruits.
- When not cared for extensively, the elephant garlic will keep dividing, including through corms it produces. This can create a dense cluster of beautiful flowers in your garden.
Growing Wild Leek
Wild leek is generally grown in gardens. If you do not have much space available, it is also possible to grow elephant garlic in container gardens, so long as the roots have plenty of space to develop. Once planted, Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum is not too difficult to care for.
Wild leek needs to be placed in a location where it will consistently receive full sun — meaning at least six hours of sunlight a day, and preferably even more. While wild leeks will survive in partial shade, too, the bulbs that result during the second year will be smaller and may not divide into bulbils. The flowers, too, will be less impressive in this case. Elephant garden can be planted in warmer temperatures, where these plants can flower year-round, or in temperate or cooler climates with colder winters. In that case, they will begin their growing season during the early spring. Wild leek can withstand periods of frost without any problems.
For your Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum to thrive, you will want to ensure that the plant is placed in consistently moist soil — because elephant garlic needs a lot of water to succeed. This soil should be nutrient-rich and well-draining, however; wild leek does not do well when it becomes waterlogged, as the bulbs can begin to rot. A pH neutral soil is ideal for your elephant garden, and these plants love loamy soil, too.
- ramp seeds can be sown anytime the soil is not frozen, late summer to early fall is usually considered the best time for seeding ramps. Origin: US Native Other Common Names: Small White Leek, Ramp Duration: Perennial Bloom Time: Summer
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Elephant garlic and other Allium ampeloprasum species are undemanding in terms of fertilizer. A natural compost serves your wild leeks’ nutritional needs just fine. Add a layer of compost to your elephant garlic right after planting a bulb, and so so again the following spring to prepare it for an abundant growing season and a beautiful bloom.
Wild leeks do not need to be pruned, as such, but they can be harvested. Should you be interested in adding elephant garlic to wildflower salads, you can remove some of the foliage, harvest the flowers, and also harvest the bulbs and stems. The corms are likewise edible.
Because slugs enjoy these plants, too, you might like to add a layer of mulch, away from the stem, to protect your elephant garlic. If you are intending to eat any parts of your wild leek, using pesticides to control possible pests is not a good idea.
Watering Wild Leek
Wild leeks thrive in moist conditions and depend on supplemental watering, unless you live in an extremely rainy region. When you first plant your wild leek, make sure to water it often to help it mature nicely — so long as you have a well-draining soil type, which will take care of any extra water for you. Water your wild leek to the point where you feel the top of the soil is lightly moist but make sure not to “drown” the plant in water.
Elephant garlic is well-known for simultaneously requiring fairly heavily moist soil and also coping very poorly with being waterlogged. Should your plant sit in soggy soil, you run a significant risk of bulb rot, causing you to have to start the growing process all over again! Water your elephant garlic plant every morning for best results.
After your wild leek is well-established, it won’t need as much water as a baby plant. Still keep the wild leek moist but water less frequently. If your region experiences regular rainfall, supplemental watering may not be necessary at all.
Propagating Wild Leek
Propagating elephant garlic and other species of wild leek is a little unusual, in that it is easiest to grow these flowering plants from their bulbils, the cloves into which mature bulbs divide in their second year. The bulbs should first be divided into cloves, for which you need to remove the outer shell.
Elephant garlic requires a cool period before the bulbs can be activated, and this is why their bulbs are typically planted just before the spring arrives, giving them access to temperatures between 32 50 °F (0 to 10°C) for a few weeks. People who live in regions with wet rather than cold winters can start the bulbs indoors and transplant them to the garden in the spring.
Here’s a step-by-step look at the entire process of planting elephant garlic:
- You can harvest bulbils from the stalks of your parent plant. If you are interested in allowing your existing elephant garlic patch to spread, you can just leave them alone, of course. Harvest bulbs to share them with friends or neighbors or to bring elephant garlic to a different spot in your garden.
- Once you have harvested the bulb, separate it from the stalk, and divide the bulb into several cloves.
- Take all your cloves and plant them four to six inches (10 to 15 centimeters) deep with their points up, making sure to plant all your cloves about eight to twelve inches apart to allow them space to grow and to ensure that they have proper air flow.
- Press down all the soil around the new bulbs and water your budding wild lees. The more cloves you plant, the higher the chance that one of them will succeed!
- You’re done! If you’re lucky, you’ll notice your wild leeks starting to take root and growing within a few weeks!
Wild leeks encompass an entire genus, featuring five species classified as vegetables. Of all these species, which are related to onions, Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum — sometimes known simply as “wild leek”, but more precisely called elephant garlic, is one of the most interesting.
These beautiful plants are edible and repel many pests, but also brighten your garden up with their amazing spherical flower clusters in their second year of life. Caring for newly planted elephant garlic can be a little challenging, but once these plants take root, they will easily continue to spread. Harvest their bulbs from time to time to make sure they have ample space to keep growing, and you will be able to enjoy elephant garlic for many years.