Saturday, June 1, 2013

Sandra's Garden: onion you grow for a flower, not for food

Species name: Allium aflatunense

Common name: flowering onion

Location: Sandra's garden

There are two main species of ornamental purple-flowering onions, and this is one of them. The true flowering onion is native to central Asia but has been spread around the world as an ornamental bulb. It produces these brilliant purple globe-like flowers in the spring, seeds in the fall, and then dies off during the winter to regrow the next year. In most areas, reproduction by seed of this plant is abysmal at best so there isn't a risk of it becoming invasive (the growing season isn't long enough for the seeds to germinate, and by the time spring rolls around the winter has killed the seeds in the soil). There are other ornamental onions that don't have purple flowers that are highly invasive species, so make sure you know what you're planting and what you're getting yourself into!

The other species of purple-flowering onions is the giant onion or Allium giganteum. These two species are relatively easily distinguished because the giant onion has a much more densely packed flower head, which is much larger in diameter. It definitely earns its name! Before we moved we had these planted in our garden, and they were one of my favourite flowers we had there. It's a shame I wasn't into plant photography while we were living there; we had some unusual plants in our garden that would be fun to profile. Both the giant onion and the flowering onion are great species to plant in your garden to attract all sorts of pollinators, but especially bees and other pollinating insects.

The flowering onion and the giant onion are both in the same genus as regular onions (A. cepa, which you can read a bit about HERE), chives (A. schoenoprasum), leeks (A. ampeloprasum), and garlic (A. sativum). I have also profiled another member of the genus Allium a while back, garlic chives (which you can read all about HERE).

Like the carrot family, the onion genus is made up of a group of plants that are edible, and a group of plants that you probably don't want to be eating. Unless you are absolutely certain of your plant's identification, you probably shouldn't decide to eat it! The flowering onion and the giant onion are non-edible plants, meaning they won't make you sick if you eat them but they certainly aren't good. Many wild varieties of onions and garlic are so potent they will actually burn your mouth and cause blisters if you try to eat them, let alone the damage they'll cause to your stomach! Some species of onions are also highly toxic to cats and dogs even if they won't harm humans, so make sure you prevent your beloved pets from munching on these species! Most of the time they'll stay away anyway because the smell is potent enough that they figure out it's not good, but when these plants are young they haven't developed their strongest potency yet and might fool even the most discriminating nose into thinking it's grass.