Gerald L. Klingaman
Plant Common Name
This is an enormous and diverse plant genus. The onion family contains about 1250 species of herbaceous bulbous or rhizomatous plants that can be found across north temperate climates worldwide. All are perennials and cultivated forms are either grown for their ornamental flowers and foliage or as crops that yield edible greens and bulbs, such as onion, garlic, chive and leek. Species may be deciduous or evergreen and some are ephemeral.
Ornamental onions run the gamut from tiny groundcovers to enormous plants that produce large globe-like flowers. Most form uniform or spreading rosettes of foliage that can be thin and grassy or wide and strappy and dark green to blue-green. The flowers are small and star-like and appear in clusters of varying shapes and sizes that appear atop smooth leafless stems. The blooms come in many shades of white, yellow, pink, red, purple, and blue. Most of the flower heads are rounded and some, such as drumstick allium, are oblong.
Plant bulbous alliums as deep as they are tall; rhizomatous species should be planted with their rosettes at or just below the soil surface. Take care to plant alliums in well-drained, preferably sandy soil, since rot can result if too much moisture is held at the root zone. Once established, some alliums can tolerate drought. Reduce watering when the foliage begins to turn yellow.
With their wide range of bloom time, size and color, ornamental alliums are at home in spring bulb beds, mixed borders, containers and rock gardens.
Onions have a very distinctive oniony smell that’s derived from a variety of genus-specific chemicals, like cystein sulfoxide. These offer that oniony/garlicky taste and smell.
Bulb or Corm or Tuber
Full Sun, Partial Sun
World/Pandemic, North America, Europe, Russia/Siberia, Northern Africa, Asia, India
Bark or Stem Fragrant
Flower Petal Number