Letter to the Editor – Wild Garlic Vendors Damaging Plant Population – Thomas Vachon – Cornwall Ontario – June 11, 2011

Cornwall ON – We’ve all seen them on the side of the road. Lines of bottles sitting in rows, with their signs written in black marker on a scrap piece of

cardboard, all the while either oblivious or apathetic to the fact that their profits come at the cost of a species that carries a special

significance to Canadian culture.   What they are selling is the bulbs from the Allium Tricoccum plant, or wild garlic.

To truly understand the damage they are causing we need to understand this tasty plant. Allium Tricoccum grows in the moist rich soil

of deciduous forests under a canopy of beech, maple, oak, and/or poplar and are nearly impossible to cultivate in a home garden,

leading them to be sought in their ‘wild’ environment. The bulbs ripen in the early spring, before the plant has a chance to flower and,

as such, means that harvesting essentially kills the plant before it has the opportunity to propagate. Because of this, most, ‘traditional’

pickers will often leave between 25 and 50% of a cache behind, allowing the remaining plants to re-populate the area for the next


Unfortunately, for the plant (and for us),poachers, tend to harvest the entire plant population, destroying any future growth in

the area.

My own father is a ‘traditional’ picker and would make this treck into the forest, to his own small patch of wild garlic to bring home for

the rest of the family, often donating a few bottles to the local nursing homes. In doing so, though, he was careful to ensure that he

always left behind enough plants so that he could return the next year and reap an equally sized harvest. This year, however, was

different. The entire patch was gone, with the only evidence being a pile of leaves left from the plants and an unusual homemade hoe

that was used to reap, or rather rape the harvest. Nothing will grow back there next year.

Quebec once saw the same devestating harvest of these plants and so enacted laws to protect the species. A person may possess

up to 200 grams of bulbs for personal consumption per year and prohibits any commercial transactions of Allium plants. Unfortunately,

these poachers are finding a commercial niche in Ontario, where no such laws exist, and they are free to sell to unsuspecting

consumers in roadside stalls.

The future of wild garlic is at risk, if we don’t act to protect the species now. The first step is to deny poachers of a market by not buying

their ill gotten loot on the streets, then enacting laws, in Ontario, to ensure that they don’t have an outlet for marketing their wares. We

cannot and should not support them by buying poached bulbs on the streets. Please write to your local MPP now, before it’s too late

and a great Canadian tradition becomes only a memory.

Thomas Vachon,
Cornwall, Ontario

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  1. I once owned a 150 acre parcel of land. Each spring, cars with Quebec plates would park at the end of the dead-end road where my house was, and disappear into my forest, which being privately owned, was private property. There was once a number of areas where the wild garlic grew, and I too, would harvest only a small percentage of what was there, essentially thinning it out and encouraging it to flourish for the next season. But those areas are now just loose soil, as the garlic was ALL taken by the greedy pickers, leaving nothing for future years. I tried to keep an eye out for this, and on one occasion I confronted a mother and her three kids, all armed with harvesting tools and empty plastic bags. She said she had the landlord’s permission, and when I explained that I owned the land, and that there was no ‘landlord’, she eventually left.

    I agree that a law should be put into place in Ontario, as it is not simply people trespassing on private land, but the total and complete destruction of an increasingly rare plant for a few quick dollars.

  2. Picking garlic is a fundamental tradition in this end of Canada. Responsible pickers know that, in order to reap a harvest the next year, it’s MANDATORY to leave a percentage of the plants behind and allow propagation.

    These roadside vendors are just poachers. As you say John, they leave behind only loose soil and heaps of dead leaves trying to make the biggest buck possible on their $20 jars of garlic.

    Write to your local MP before these plants become a story grandpa tells his kids.

    Jim Brownell – jbrownell.mpp@liberal.ola.org
    Linda Jeffrey, Minister of Natural Resources – ljeffrey.mpp@liberal.ola.org

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