Allium cernuum Roth
Liliaceae (Lily Family)
USDA Symbol: alce2
Soft, grasslike leaves and a 1-2 ft., leafless flowering stalk rise from a bulb. The stem bends so that the pink flowers, borne in a cluster at the top, nod toward the ground. An umbel of many pink or white flowers at the tip of a long, erect, leafless stalk, bent like a shepherd’s crook; a basal cluster of several long, narrow leaves. All parts of the perennial have a mild, oniony scent.
This plant is closely related to the Autumn Wild Onion (A. stellatum) but differs in its unique nodding flower cluster and earlier flowering. One of the rarer Carolinian species because of its restricted habitat.
It is principally found on Lake Erie islands, the southern most land in Canada.
It is edible and has medicinal uses similar to garlic. (Lamb/Rhynard).
Eaten sparingly by Northwest Coast First Nations. They were steamed in pits lined with cedar boughs and covered with lichen and alder boughs. After they were eaten, or dried in strings or on mats or pressed into cakes. EDIBLE PARTS: Leaves, bulbs and bulblets. Field garlic (A. vineale), introduced from Eurasia and northern Africa, is too strong for most tastes. Gather leaves during spring and fall. Gather bulbs in the second year when they are large enough to use like cultivated onions. Flower stem bulblets are collected during the summer. Use as domestic onions, for seasoning or raw in salads. Bulbs can be used raw, boiled, pickled or for seasoning. Their strong taste can be reduced by parboiling and discarding the water. To freeze onions or garlic, one should coarsely chop, blanch two minutes, drain, pat dry and place them into plastic bags. The bulbs can also be dried for use as seasoning. Use flower bulbs to flavor soup or for pickling. Attracts hairstreak butterfly. The city of Chicago gets its name from the Algonquin Indian name for this plant, chigagou.
From the Image Gallery
Plant CharacteristicsDuration: Perennial
Leaf Complexity: Simple
Size Class: 1-3 ft.
Bloom InformationBloom Color: White , Pink
Bloom Time: Jun , Jul , Aug
DistributionUSA: AL , AR , AZ , CO , DC , GA , IA , ID , IL , IN , KY , MD , MI , MN , MO , MS , MT , NC , NE , NJ , NM , NY , OH , OR , PA , SC , SD , TN , TX , UT , VA , WA , WI , WV , WY
Canada: AB , BC , ON , SK
Native Distribution: NY to B.C., s. to mts. & cooler regions from GA to AZ
Native Habitat: Dry to moist prairies; stream banks; moist areas at high altitudes
Growing ConditionsLight Requirement: Sun
Soil Moisture: Moist
Soil pH: Alkaline (pH>7.2)
CaCO3 Tolerance: High
Soil Description: Humus-rich, neutral to alkaline soils.
Conditions Comments: Nodding onion is most effectively planted in small groups. Plants benefit from being divided every third year or when 8-10 bulbs appear in the clump. Some Allium species can become weedy in warmer climates.
BenefitUse Wildlife: Bulbs are utilized by bears and ground squirrels. Elk and deer graze the early spring herbage. Attracts haistreak butterfly.
Warning: All parts poisonous but causes only low toxicity if eaten; can be safely eaten in small amounts, large quantities not recommended. Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea. Toxic Principle: Sulfides.
Conspicuous Flowers: yes
Attracts: Butterflies , Hummingbirds
Nectar Source: yes
Value to Beneficial InsectsSpecial Value to Native Bees
Supports Conservation Biological Control
This information was provided by the Pollinator Program at The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
PropagationDescription: Easily propagated by seed or bulb division. Plant seeds outdoors in fall. Seeds germinate best if scarified. Offset bulblets, which form around the base of the larger bulbs, can be divided in fall.
Seed Collection: Seed capsules remain green until just before they dehisce when they turn tan or straw-colored. At this time–usually Sept. to Oct.–squeeze open the capsules. If the seeds are black or turning black, collect. Air-dry and store in a refrigerated container up to three years.
Seed Treatment: Seeds require scarification.
Commercially Avail: yes
Find Seed or Plants
Find seed sources for this species at the Native Seed Network.
View propagation protocol from Native Plants Network.
Mr. Smarty Plants says
Edible Plants for North Georgia
January 10, 2010
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National Wetland Indicator Status
From the National Suppliers DirectoryAccording to the inventory provided by Associate Suppliers, this plant is available at the following locations:
Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery - Orefield, PA
Wildflower Farm - Coldwater, ON
Amandas Garden - Springwater, NY
Sunshine Farm & Gardens - Renick, WV
Enchanter's Garden - Hinton, WV
American Native Nursery - Quakertown, PA
Toadshade Wildflower Farm - Frenchtown, NJ
Prairie Nursery - Westfield, WI
From the National Organizations DirectoryAccording to the species list provided by Affiliate Organizations, this plant is on display at the following locations:
Delaware Nature Society - Hockessin, DE
Natural Biodiversity - Johnstown, PA
Longwood Gardens - Newark, DE
Native Seed Network - Corvallis, OR
Mt. Cuba Center - Hockessin, DE
BibliographyBibref 928 - 100 easy-to-grow native plants for Canadian gardens (2005) Johnson, L.; A. Leyerle
Bibref 946 - Gardening with Prairie Plants: How to Create Beautiful Native Landscapes (2002) Wasowski, Sally
Bibref 1262 - Plants of Carolinian Canada (1994) Lamb, Larry and Gail Rhynard
* The Midwestern Native Garden: Native Alternatives to Nonnative Flowers and Plants An Illustrated Guide (2011) Adelman, Charlotte and Schwartz, Bernard L.
Search More Titles in Bibliography
Additional resourcesUSDA: Find Allium cernuum in USDA Plants
FNA: Find Allium cernuum in the Flora of North America (if available)
Google: Search Google for Allium cernuum
MetadataRecord Modified: 2012-12-06
Research By: TWC Staff