Allium canadense L.

Allium canadense plant

Family - Liliaceae

Habit - Perennial forb from a bulb.

Stems - From a bulb. Bulb covered with a dense network of fibers, these tan in color. Bulb to 3 cm long, ovoid. Aerial stems to 40 cm tall, erect, glabrous, terete, single to multiple from the base, simple.

Allium canadense bulbBulb with distinctive criss-cross fibers.

Leaves - Basal or nearly so, linear, flattened, glabrous, to 40 cm long, 2-7mm broad, with a broad shallow groove adaxially, sometimes folding at the base, pale green to whitish at the base. Stem and leaves with strong onion scent when bruised.

Inflorescences - Terminal umbels. Flowers sometimes replaced by reddish bulblets, with inflorescences comprising any combination of flowers and bulblets. Bulblets sessile. Flowers with pedicels to 4 cm long, glabrous, erect. Pedicels much longer than the flowers. Bud of inflorescence covered with a scarious tan bract. Bract persistent at the base of the umbel after anthesis.

Allium canadense inflorescence

Allium canadense bractBract.

Allium canadense bulblets2Inflorescence with bulblets

Flowers - Tepals 6, pink to white, glabrous, oblong-lanceolate, to 8 mm long, 3 mm broad. Stamens 6, erect. Filaments pinkish, glabrous, expanded at the base, adnate to the base of the tepals, 5 mm long. Ovary subglobose, glabrous, 3-locular. Style glabrous, 5 mm long, pinkish. Ovules 3-4 per locule.

Allium canadense flowerPink flower.

Allium canadense flower3

Allium canadense flower4

Allium canadense flowerWhite flower.

Fruits - When produced, capsules 3-4 mm long, depressed-globose to broadly obovoid, 3-lobed, lacking triangular projections. Seeds black.

Flowering - April - July.

Habitat - Glades, bluffs, open woods, prairies, disturbed sites.

Origin - Native to U.S.

Other info. - This showy plant can be found throughout Missouri and most of the eastern half of the U.S. Like all of the state's native onions, it has flattened leaves. It is especially common in glade areas of the Ozarks. The plant has a strong onion scent and is edible. Cows which graze upon it produce onion-flavored milk.

Allium canadense represents a complex which various authors have subdivided, usually on the basis of presence or absence of vegetative bulblets in the inflorescence, as well as morphometric characters. Currently, three varieties are recognized in Missouri's flora: var. canadense, var. lavendulare, and var. mobilense. These are similar and appear to exhibit significant intergradation. It is certainly true that bublet-forming plants can be found in the same population with those having only flowers. More research is needed to clarify genotypes and their Missouri expression. At present, to quote from Yatskievych's Flora of Missouri, "The level at which these taxa formally should be recognized is perhaps a matter more of personal taste than science."

Other Allium species are similar in appearance to this one but only A. canadense has the characteristic fiber coating on its bulb. Be careful not to remove the coating when digging the plant up to check. As shown in the photos above, the perianth color can be variable.

Photographs taken at Taum Sauk Mountain, MO., 5-31-03 (DETenaglia); also at St. Joe State Park, St. Francois County, MO, 6-2-2013 (SRTurner).


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