Ramsons (Allium ursinum)

Also known as wild garlic, this plant carpets the ground in areas of woodland across the UK giving off a distinctive odour of garlic.

Common name(s): ramsons, wild garlic, buckrams, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek, bear's garlic

Scientific name: Allium ursinum
Family: Liliaceae

What do ramsons look like?

Leaves: long, pointed and oval in shape with untoothed margins. Leaves grow from the plant base, from the bulb of the plant itself. Leaves have a garlic scent.

Flowers: white in colour. Six petals make up a flower, with around 25 of these forming the rounded shaped flower cluster. Flowers are on leafless stalks.

Fruit: a capsule which has black seeds inside.

Not to be confused with...

Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis): when in flower this plant can be distinguished from ramsons as it has bell-shaped white flowers in a one-sided spike. The leaves may be confused however the leaves of ramsons grow from the plant base whereas lily-of-the-valley has two leaves, or sometimes three, on one stem. Lily-of-the-valley is poisonous.

Where and when to find ramsons

Where: Located across the UK this plant favours deciduous woodland, usually on calcareous (chalky) soil. It can also be found in scrub and hedgerows but prefers damp areas.

When: a perennial, it flowers from April to June.

Value to wildlife

As a plant which flowers relatively early it is utilised by various insects and bees which will pollinate the plant. The bulbs may be eaten by species such as wild boar.

Uses and folklore

Medicine: the bulb of the plant was used to create tonics to relieve rheumatic problems and lower cholesterol.

Ancient woodland indicator: this species can be used to aid identification of ancient woodland sites.

Folklore: the second half of this plant’s Latin name, ursinum, refers to the fact that brown bears would eat the bulbs.

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