Wild Garlic

We were hiking on the Big Beech Trail at The Parklands of Floyds Fork in metro Louisville this past March when we sighted some healthy clumps of what I have always called “Wild Onion”.

Many folks are familiar with it as an invasive weed of their lawn or garden areas, as I was, but it was also part of my preteen childhood. My friends and I would spend a lot of time in a nearby deciduous wood and occasionally chew on the green tubular leaves of the plant.

When we saw it on the Louisville hike I decided that I would investigate the plant this spring and try to get a better understanding of something that I, for the most part, had taken for granted for 5 decades.

From the start research told me that I have been using the wrong name for the plant. The plant we see is in fact Wild Garlic, not Wild Onion. There is a similar appearing Wild Onion but they are rarer, and their leaves are flat and solid, where as Wild Garlic leaves are smooth, round, and hollow.

What I have observed over the following couple of months has given me insight into the life cycle of Wild Garlic. It is a non-native with its home range being the Mediterranean areas of lower Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East. It is a perennial plant that completes its seasonal cycle from the fall of one year, through the spring of the next, and goes into dormancy during the heat of the summer. In the winter it will be one of the few greens appearing to thrive in our eastern U.S. wild lands.

In the latter spring, after the spring ephemerals have had their show, Wild Garlic will send up a stalk that resembles a flower structure. Atop the stalk will develop a growth that is covered with a semitransparent, paper thin membrane.

The membrane eventually ruptures to reveal one of three things: a cluster of bulbets, which are small plant bulbs, or a combination of flowers and bulbets, or most rarely, a flower head. One of each type can be seen in the photos below, where the bulbets appear purple tinged and the flower buds greenish-white.

The bulbets are hard and feel like a marble when pinched. The flower heads are soft.

The bulbets will then mature and start to germinate while still on the stem. These reminded the photographer of the little troll dolls of her childhood.

Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention, but I do not recall seeing this aerial display of bulbet germination in the past, or on any other type of plant for that matter. Interesting.

Overtime the plant will head to dormancy for the summer, the stalk will dry out, and the bulbets will be dislodged to the ground, where, if they get incorporated with the soil or leaf litter, they will establish roots and become a new plant. The flowering and seed setting of Wild Garlic is felt to be a much less successful form of reproduction.

For completeness I will show you a photo of some of the bulbs of Wild Garlic. They typically measure 1-2 cm. And yes, these were pulled from our relatively well maintained garden. The battle is real.

While all parts of the plant are edible (bulb, leaves, and flowers), their presence in pastures and farm fields are a problem for the agricultural industry as they can give a garlic flavor to milk if ingested by cows, or to grains if the harvest is contaminated with parts of Wild Garlic.

My “Wild Garlic-Wild Onion” adventure has been fun and I have learned a lot. It is amazing what a simple pause to ponder will turn up. I will keep my eyes and mind open to pondering other things that I think I know.

Footpathsblog.com posts are released every Sunday morning and some bonus content is added periodically. Please click on a social media icon above to follow for future posts and to make sure that you catch all our reflections on, and adventures with, the great outdoors.

Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns. The photos were taken at The Parklands of Floyds Fork in Louisville, French Park in Amberley Village, Ohio, and The Toyota Biodiversity Trail in Georgetown, Kentucky.

Leave a Reply