A robust, bulbous perennial herb of rank vegetation in sandy and rocky places near the sea, especially in old fields and hedge banks, on sheltered cliff-slopes, by paths and tracks and in drainage ditches and other disturbed places. Var. ampeloprasum reproduces mainly by seed, whereas the other varieties spread mainly by bulbils. Lowland.
Var. babingtonii has extended its range and become more frequent since 1930, var. bulbiferum is confined to the Channel Islands where it is relatively stable, and var. ampeloprasum occurs in small populations in S.W. England and Wales and may be declining. The species may sometimes be mis-recorded for A. sativum.
As an archaeophyte A. ampeloprasum has a Mediterranean-Atlantic distribution.
Light (Ellenberg): 8
Moisture (Ellenberg): 4
Reaction (Ellenberg): 6
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 5
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 5.5
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.5
Annual Precipitation (mm): 1068
Height (cm): 180
Perennation - primary
Life Form - primary
Clonality - primary
Clonality - secondary
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 66
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 24
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 6
Atlas Change Index: 0.77
RDB Species Accounts
Allium ampeloprasum L. (Liliaceae)
Wild leek, Cenhinan Wyllt
Status in Britain: LOWER RISK - Nationally Scarce.
Status in Europe: Not threatened.
A. ampeloprasum is typically a plant of anthropogenic habitats, associated with ruined settlements and historic field systems and occurring, for example, amongst brambles and rough vegetation on stone-faced Cornish 'hedges', in old orchards, by footpaths, on roadsides, and on disturbed and waste ground (FitzGerald 1990c). Associates are mainly undistinguished species of rough places and walls such as Arrhenatherum elatius, Chaerophyllum temulentum, Galium aparine, Heracleum sphondylium, Iris foetidissima, Rubus fruticosus, Rumex acetosa, Silene dioica, Umbilicus rupestris and Urtica dioica. It is also found occasionally in more natural habitats including the top and faces of rocky sea-cliffs and sandy places on the coast.
It is a robust perennial, flowering in July and August, and reproducing by seed and vegetatively. Three morphologically distinct varieties are usually recognised; var. ampeloprasum with dense globose umbels lacking bulbils, var. babingtonii having rather loose globose umbels with many bulbils, and var. bulbiferum with fewer smaller bulbils in the umbel. Vegetative reproduction is by offsets (bulblets), and, except in var. ampeloprasum, by bulbils, and colonies of limited extent can arise by these means. Seed is dispersed much more widely.
Var. babingtonii has become abundant in the Isles of Scilly, where it occurs on most of the main islands. It has also spread and increased in numbers on the mainland, where it was recorded in eleven 1 km squares in the 1970s, 54 in the 1980s and 80 in the 1990s. Though there has undoubtedly been more recording in recent years, the increase appears to be real. FitzGerald (1990c) suggests that since the plant has strong associations with man and may have been cultivated in ancient times, it may thrive on the increasing management of the countryside, and this may partly account for its increase. Its large size, easy reproduction via bulbils, and vigorous spring growth, make it well able to compete with the rank wayside and ruderal species which are its usual associates. Populations are generally small, but a few number in the hundreds or even thousands of plants. Var. ampeloprasum has been recorded in very few sites on the coasts of England and Wales, and has been seen in only three in the past twenty years; on Steep Holm and Flat Holm in the Bristol Channel, and near South Stack, Anglesey. When first recorded on Steep Holm in 1625, it was described as abundant, and in 1891 as plentiful, but it has since declined. In 1989, only 216 plants were found (Taylor 1990f). Neither is it thriving on Flat Holm, and only about 300 plants were counted recently (Morgan 1989f). The South Stack population consists of a few tens of plants.
There are differing views on the status of A. ampeloprasum. Some authorities (e.g. White 1912; Margetts & David 1981) treat it as a likely ancient introduction. Stearn (1987) noted that the bulbilliferous variants may owe their [British] localities to a now forgotten culinary use, and Roberts & Day (1987) thought that the Anglesey plants had no appearance of being indigenous. However, Stace (1991) and Sell & Murrell (1996) treat all varieties as native.
Var. ampeloprasum occurs throughout western and southern Europe, including the Mediterranean islands, with its stronghold in Iberia and the Balearic Islands. It ranges eastwards to Turkey, Iraq and the Caucasus, and is considered to be naturalised in the Azores. Var. babingtonii is endemic in Britain, Ireland and the Channel Islands, and var. bulbiferum is endemic in the Channel Islands.
M. J. Wigginton