Biologists study ramps in western Pa.

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CENTER TWP, Pa. — Penn State Beaver biology professor Sarah Nilson is spending the summer trekking through the woods of Pennsylvania to study a plant that is sought after by some and completely unfamiliar to others.

Nilson received a research grant to study wild ramps, a plant that looks similar to green onions and tastes like garlic.

Ramps are prized in certain areas, with some towns even holding ramp festivals when the plants come in season. They are also in demand with chefs who look to use locally sourced food, Nilson said.

Nilson is conducting her research with Eric Burkhart, a botanist who is the head of plant sciences for Penn State’s Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center in Petersburg; and Penn State Beaver student Haley Velemirovich. The team also has a research collaborator, Harvey Ballard, a professor of environmental and plant biology at Ohio University.

Working with the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources, the team is gathering data about ramps that grow in western Pennsylvania. Nilson said the goal is to help regulators know if wild ramps should be listed as a vulnerable species as not much is known about the plant.

The group wants to identify ideal ramp habitats, encourage people to grow their own ramp and “promote cultivation via conservation,” she said.

The team is looking at what types of wild ramps grow in the region and studying the plants’ method of reproduction.

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