Onions & Garlics

Three-leaved Garlic Wild Onion Sand Leek Chinese Chives

What are they?

Well-known for their culinary uses as vegetables and seasonings, the Alliums are a group of plants that grow from underground bulbs and typically have a strong smell of garlic or onion about them. The flowers appear in a cluster at the top of a common stalk (known as a scape) and the flower cluster is usually protected by a papery sheath known as a spathe, which splits and falls away as the flowers mature. The flowers have three sepals and three petals that are typically very similar and are collectively known as tepals. Onions and garlics were for a long time included in a large lily family (Liliaceae) but are now grouped with daffodils, snowdrops ane related, bulbous species in the family Amaryllidaceae.

Where are they found?

Wild Onion can be found quite widely in grassy places and Ramsons can be found in wooded areas, but most of the species in this group occur as escapes from gardens. As such, most are occasionals on waste ground, grassy roadsides and in urban areas.

Identification

Some species - such as Honey Garlic - are rather striking and easy to identify, but other species can be more difficult to tell apart and can require close study. Species are mostly rather grass-like in their leaves and thus likely to be easily overlooked when not in flower, so identification here is mostly based on flowers, with leaf details as supporting characters. Flower colour and the presence or absence of small bulbils in the flowerhead should first be noted. With the white species, care should be taken to note flower colour on both the back and front of the tepals and whether there are any stripes of green or pink; npte also the colour of the anthers on the stamens. Leaves may be either flattened like grass leaf blades, or rounded and tubular like rushes. Species with flattened leaf blades may have the blades keeled on the back (and thus three-pointed in cross-section) and may have hairs along the leaf margins - a hand lens may be required to check this. Especially for the pink-flowered species, it can be useful to note the relative size of the papery spathe and whether the base that wraps around the flowers is longer or shorter than the upper part (the beak).



Ramsons      Allium ursinum

(Wild Garlic) Native. Widespread in woodland and shady lanes and hedgebanks, especially favouring damper ground. Flowers April to June. The strong garlic smell is all pervading in the air as one walks through patches of this plant. Forms extensive, creeping colonies; the leaves are much broader than those of other onions and garlics, up to 8cm wide.

Ramsons Ramsons Ramsons Ramsons
Habit
Habit
Flowers
Flowers


Three-cornered Garlic      Allium triquetrum

Introduced from southern Europe. May be found in a wide variety of urban and suburban habitats such as roadsides, churchyards and rough corners. Increasing and now much more widespread than indicated by the current county floras, often forming quite extensive colonies of plants. Flowers March to May (occasionally earlier). Flowerheads slightly pendulous and one-sided, tepals with a green stripe. Leaves strongly three-sided (keeled) in cross-section. Garlic smell.

Three-cornered Garlic Three-cornered Garlic Three-cornered Garlic Three-cornered Garlic
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Flowers
Flowers
Leaf (cross section)


Few-flowered Garlic      Allium paradoxum

Introduced as a garden plant from the Caucasus region. May be found in a wide variety of urban and suburban habitats such as roadsides, churchyards and rough corners. Increasing and now probably more widespread than indicated by the current county floras, often proving invasive and forming extensive colonies. Flowers April to May (occasionally earlier). Flowerheads typically consist of a cluster of bulbils, together with just one or two flowers on elongate stalks. Leaves only weakly three-sided (keeled) in cross-section. Garlic smell.

Three-cornered Garlic Three-cornered Garlic Three-cornered Garlic Three-cornered Garlic
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Flowers and bulbils
Leaf


Neapolitan Garlic      Allium neapolitanum

Introduced from southern Europe. Rare and recorded as a garden escape on a handful of roadside verges, but usually persistent at such sites. Flowers March to May. Flowers with greyish-green anthers, tepals all white on both sides. Leaves flat in cross-section with hairless margins. Garlic smell.

Neapolitan Garlic Neapolitan Garlic Neapolitan Garlic Neapolitan Garlic
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Habit
Flowers
Leaf margin


Hairy Garlic      Allium subhirsutum

Introduced from southern Europe. Rare and recorded as a garden escape in Suffolk but recently also found in Norfolk. Flowers March to May. Flowers with pinkish-brown anthers, becoming yellow at maturity; tepals all white on both sides. Leaves flat in cross-section with hairy margins. Garlic smell.

Hairy Garlic Hairy Garlic Hairy Garlic Hairy Garlic
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Habit
Flowers
Leaf margins


Three-leaved Garlic      Allium trifoliatum

Introduced from southern Europe. Rare and recorded as a garden escape in Suffolk but recently also found in Norfolk. Flowers March to May. Flowers with yellow anthers; tepals with a pink stripe on the back. Leaves flat in cross-section with hairy margins. Garlic smell.

Three-leaved Garlic Three-leaved Garlic Three-leaved Garlic Three-leaved Garlic
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Flowers
Flowers
Leaf margins


Chinese Chives      Allium tuberosum

Introduced from China. Found as a garden escape twice in Norfolk in recent years and may increase in occurrence. Flowers late June to August. Flowers with pinkish-brown anthers, in a rather dense, many-flowered cluster; tepals with a weak, pink stripe on the back. Leaves flat in cross-section with hairless margins.

Chinese Chives Chinese Chives Chinese Chives Chinese Chives
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Flowers
Flower
Leaf


Cultivated Onion      Allium cepa

Unknown in the wild and widely grown in a variety of cultivated forms as a vegetable. Occasionally found growing where garden waste may have been dumped, but doesn't persist for long. Flowers July to September. Flower tepals white with a green stripe, but pink in some varieties, especially those that produce red onions. Flower spathe shorter than the branches of the flowerhead and often hidden beneath. Leaves blue-green, hollow-tubular, slightly flattened on one side. Distinct onion smell.

Cultivated Onion Cultivated Onion Cultivated Onion Cultivated Onion
Habit
Flower spike
Flower spike
Flowers


Cultivated Garlic      Allium sativum

Of unknown origin but widely grown in a variety of cultivated forms as a vegetable or for seasoning. Occasionally found growing where garden waste may have been dumped, but doesn't persist for long. Flowers August to September. Flower tepals greenish-white or pink. Flower spathe longer than the branches of the flowerhead but often dropping before the flowers are fully open. Leaves flat or slightly keeled. Distinct garlic smell.

Cultivated Garlic
Habit


Common Leek      Allium porrum

Of uncertain origin but probably a cultivated form of Wild Leek Allium ampeloprasum. Widely grown in a variety of cultivated forms as a vegetable or for seasoning. Occasionally found growing where garden waste may have been dumped, but doesn't persist for long. Flowers July to August. Flower tepals pink. Flower spathe longer than the branches of the flowerhead, usually lasting to flowering time. Leaves flat or slightly keeled, blue-green. Onion smell.

Common Leek Common Leek
Habit
Habit


Wild Onion      Allium viniale

(Crow Garlic) Native. Widespread on thin, dry soils on chalk or in sandy soils. Most frequent south and west of Breckland but also frequent in sandy, coastal areas. Flowers June to July. Flowerheads may consist of pink flowers, reddish or brownish bulbils, or a combination of the two. Bulbils often sprout green shoots before falling. Spathe with the beak as long as or slightly longer than the base. Leaves narrow (to 4mm wide), hollow-tubular, appearing in clusters and typically upright, but sometimes cork-screwed. Onion smell.

Wild Onion Wild Onion Wild Onion Wild Onion
Habit
Flowers
Sprouting bulbils
Leaves


Field Garlic      Allium oleraceum

Possibly native or perhaps an ancient introduction from mainland Europe. Rare and declining with recent records confined to the south-west of the region in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Flowers July to August. Flowerheads consist of all, or mostly all, bulbils. Flowers small, whitish but tinged with shades of dull pink or reddish. Spathe with the beak greatly elongated, persistent and present at flowering time. Leaves narrow (to 4mm wide), hollow-tubular or flat. Garlic smell.

Fied Garlic Fied Garlic Fied Garlic
Habit
Flowers and bulbils
Flowers and bulbils


Sand Leek      Allium scorodoprasum

Native in northern parts of the UK but only a rare introduction in East Anglia with no recent records. Flowers May to August. Flowerheads typically a mix of flowers and bulbils. Flowers small, deep lilac or purple. Spathe with the beak shorter than base, not persistent and often gone by flowering time. Leaves fairly narrow (to 20mm wide), flat. Onion smell.

Sand Leek Sand Leek Sand Leek Sand Leek
Habit
Flowers and bulbils
Flowers and bulbils
Flower


Common Chives      Allium schoenoprasum

Native in western and northern parts of the UK but only a rare introduction in East Anglia. Commonly grown as a herb and occasionally found as a garden throw-out which may persist for a while. Flowers June to July. Tepals narrow, pale lilac with a darker stripe. Leaves hollow-tubular, forming dense tufts. Onion smell.

Common Chives Common Chives Common Chives Common Chives
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Flower spike
Flowers
Flowers


Rosy Garlic      Allium roseum

Introduced from the Mediterranean region as a garden ornamental. Occasionally found as a garden escape or throw-out on roadsides and rough ground with one or two persistent colonies long-known in East Suffolk. Sporadic elsewhere. Flowers May to June. Flowerheads a mix of flowers and bulbils, or occasionally only bulbils; tepals clear pink, showy. Leaves flat or slightly keeled, glossy on the underside. Garlic smell.

Rosy Garlic Rosy Garlic Rosy Garlic Rosy Garlic
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Flower
Flower


Yellow Garlic      Allium moly

Introduced from southwest Europe as a garden ornamental. Rare as a garden escape or throw-out on roadsides and rough ground. Flowers June to August. Tepals bright yellow with a green stripe. Leaves slightly keeled, glaucous and hairless. Garlic smell.

Yellow Garlic Yellow Garlic Yellow Garlic Yellow Garlic
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Flowers
Flowers
Leaf


Honey Garlic      Allium siculum

Introduced from southern Europe and Asia Minor as a garden ornamental. Rare as a garden escape or throw-out on roadsides, churchyards and rough ground but persistent and may increase. Flowers April to June. Flowers pendulous with tepals a mix of greenish-yellow, pink and purple. Leaves realtively broad, slightly keeled. Garlic smell. Darker specimens with plenty of road or purple in the tepals are probably the subspecies siculum from the Western Mediterranean, while greenish-white tepals with less red are probably subspecies bulgaricum from the Black Sea area, but there are many intermediates.

Honey Garlic Honey Garlic Honey Garlic Honey Garlic
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