North Carolina Arboretum


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The North Carolina Arboretum Germplasm Repository

These resources will test the sustainability of traditional Cherokee ramp harvesting techniques and implement a study of the impacts of traditional Cherokee methods of harvesting ramps. The study is comparing four treatments at two separate sites. The treatments include selective harvest of young tips (the traditional Cherokee method), removing 25% of the whole plants, removing 50% of the whole plants, and a control plot. Traditional harvesting will be overseen by a tribal member familiar with those techniques.  As most tribal members harvest ramps before the green shoots have emerged, the nutritional profile of young tips will be analyzed and compared to previous analysis of whole plants. Population resilience could take several years to evaluate. For the sake of statistical significance, this project will last a minimum of three years and no-cost extensions will be required to achieve the goals of the grant.


Traditional Cherokee Methods of Harvesting Ramps

Studying the Impacts

The ramp, sometimes called wild leek, is a wild onion native to North America. Though the bulb resembles that of a scallion, the beautiful flat, broad leaves set it apart. Traditions evolved around the annual harvesting and preparation of ramps, and many communities in the Southern Appalachian region hold annual spring ramp festivals.

The Cherokee harvested ramps in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) for many generations, long before the establishment of the park, with apparently little impact on ramp populations. In 2007, the superintendent of the GSMNP implemented a total ban on ramp harvesting leading to fines for tribal members discovered harvesting within park boundaries, often on family patches whose location was passed down for generations. In 2011, Chief Hicks arranged a temporary harvesting agreement with the park, but until traditional methods are properly tested the arrangement will remain questionable with conservationists associated with the park.

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In the fall of 2013, the Cherokee Preservation Foundation granted funds to the North Carolina Arboretum Germplasm Repository to implement a study of the impacts of traditional Cherokee methods of harvesting ramps. The study will compare four treatments at two separate sites.

The treatments include selective harvest of young tips (the traditional Cherokee method), removing 25% of the whole plants, removing 50% of the whole plants, and a control plot. A tribal member familiar with those techniques will oversee traditional harvesting.  As most tribal members harvest ramps before the green shoots have emerged, the nutritional profile of young tips will be analyzed and compared to previous analysis of whole plants.

“We are looking towards the future by studying and saving these endangered plants for generations to come,” said Joe-Ann McCoy, Director of the NC Arboretum Germplasm Repository. “When we have an established population of traditional and potential food crops, we can begin implementing healthy new food groups and foster new traditions in eating habits,” she said.

The North Carolina Arboretum Germplasm Repository (NCAGR), formerly known as the Bent Creek Germplasm Repository, was established six years ago with a primary focus on the conservation of native and medicinal plants. NCAGR has worked with the Revitalization of the Traditional Cherokee Artisan Resources (RTCAR), an initiative associated with the Cherokee Preservation Foundation, on several projects concerning the propagation of traditional Cherokee wild foods, including a previous study on ramps. The ramp plants in the cages at the Cherokee Central School will provide a controlled population to incorporate into the study on harvesting impact.

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