This month’s plant is a member of the Allium family noted for its beautiful clusters of pink flowers in mid to late summer that attracts pollinators from far and wide. As a member of the onion family, the tender young stems can be used where you would use chives and the bulbs can be used raw or cooked – though they have a very strong flavour. The Plant Description and In the Garden sections, below, provided by Shaun Booth of In Our Nature.
Common Name: Nodding Wild Onion
Scientific Name: Allium cernuum
Family: Liliaceae (lily family)
Alternate Common Names: Lady’s Leek, Nodding Pink Onion
Plant description: Nodding Onion features a tuft of basal leaves originating from a bulb. It’s arching, grass-like leaves reach up to 30cm long and 1cm wide. The leafless flower stalks rise slightly above the foliage and bend downwards at the top, producing a nodding umbel of flowers (hence the name “Nodding” Onion). All parts have a strong onion smell.
In the Garden: Nodding onion is a small but showy plant that thrives in tough sites. For best effect, plant it in large groupings. It doesn’t like competition from taller plants so plant accordingly. This is a very well-behaved, clumping plant but may self-seed in optimal conditions.
Exposure: part shade to full sun
Soil Type: humus-rich, neutral to alkaline soils but will adapt to acidity, sand to clay
Moisture: medium dry to moist
Height: 40 cm
Spread: 8-15 cm
Bloom Period: Jun, Jul, Aug
Colour: pink (white) to light lavender
Fragrant: (Y/N): Y (leaves produce an onion-like scent when crushed)
Showy Fruit (Y/N): N
Cut Flower (Y/N): N
Pests: no serious insect or disease problems
Natural Habitat: prairies, rocky outcrops and at the edge of dry open woodlands
Wildlife Value: supports a variety of generalist pollinators including native bees and the nectar attracts hummingbirds and butterflies
Butterfly Larva Host Plant For: Hairstreak butterflies (Satyrium spp.)
USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-8
Propagation: Spreads by seed and bulb offshoots. Sow seeds in the fall or provide 60 days moist, cold stratification if spring planting. Cover lightly with soil/growing medium. Plants benefit from being divided every third year or when 8-10 bulbs appear in the clump. Plants may be divided any time of the year.
Additional Info: Walnut (juglone) tolerant. Nodding Wild Onion is rare in Ontario – it is believed that the only natural populations left are those growing in alvar habitat on Pelee Island. In New York it is classified as Threatened.