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To the rescue of the wild leek!

Wild leek
Credit: Ministère des Transport du Québec
Wild leek
  • Wild leek
  • The Rescue Team on site on April 17, 2021.
  • Freshly transplanted wild leek colony.
  • Participants of the SEM'AIL program in full harvest.
  • The day after the harvest, participants transplanted the harvested plants at home.
  • SEM'AIL program participants in action.
To the rescue of the wild leek!

Sustained efforts since 1999

SEM’AIL, a program devoted to wild leek education, conservation and restoration in Québec, was created at the Biodôme in 1999. From 2000 à 2004, more than one million wild leek seeds were distributed to owners of maple stands interested in introducing new colonies in those stands to ensure the survival of the species. Over the past 20 years, upwards of 500,000 bulbs illegally harvested and seized by wildlife officers have been replanted by participants in the SEM’AIL program.

In 2010, the International Year of Biodiversity, an educational component for schools was developed. With SEM’AILjr, students in 3rd and 4th years of primary school were invited to join the F.B. Ail squad to carry out a secret mission: establish a new colony in their community. In 10 years, SEM’AILjr and its network of regional partners educated over 2,500 youngsters: true players in biodiversity conservation!

A large wild leek colony threatened with destruction

Last February, our colleagues at the Québec Ministry of Environment and Fight Against Climate Change (MEFCC) called on our help because a wooded area targeted by a highway development was home to a colony of wild leek. Anxious to avoid the loss of all those plants, we proposed organizing a transplantation task force involving SEM’AIL participants.

An appeal went out to participants living in an 80-kilometer radius to come and harvest wild leek with a view to transplanting it in their maple groves. Some 50 owners along with eight conservation groups showed up, and the rescue operation took place on April 17.

Plunging into the natural habitat

In order to comply with health measures, the arrival of participants was staggered, which created an atmosphere good for discussion. The participants, invited to collect their wild leek plants themselves from a natural colony, got to see up close all the elements that go into a typical habitat sheltering wild leek:

  1. a forest dominated by sugar maple, most often accompanied by ash, basswood and beech;
  2. companion plants: white trilliums, red trilliums, trout lilies, blue cohosh, dicentra, large-flowered bellwort, hepatica, and so on;
  3. a soft and rich forest soil;
  4. a microtopography that reveals the affinity of wild leek to wet, but not flooded, areas.

A better knowledge of all the aspects that make up the wild leek natural habitat allows for a better selection of the transplant site: a key to success! Also, transplanted mature plants will be able to produce seeds beginning the following year, allowing the new established colony to grow more rapidly.

A large-scale operation to save wild leek plants

All the measures taken to cautiously unearth the wild leek plants were effective: people left happy, each with batches of 250 to 350 bulbs to plant at home. When freshly collected wild leek plants are quickly replanted in a compatible habitat, transplanting usually enjoys considerable success.

This operation will have made it possible to save over 14,000 wild leek plants, resulting in about 60 new colonies created in suitable habitats.

Despite the fact that relocation is a last resort among strategies deployed in the conservation of threatened and vulnerable species, the rescue operation carried out this spring by SEM’AIL participants illustrated the interest of the public in conserving biodiversity.

This operation was made possible thanks to the close collaboration established among Friends of the Biodôme, the MEFCC and the Québec Ministry of Transport. Thanks to everyone!

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