Introducing the PBS topic of the week: Allium The genus Allium represents a very large and complex group found throughout the Northern hemisphere, with only one or two species found in the southern hemisphere, although those are believed to have been introduced. The species count varies tremendously from 500 to 1000. A very recent scholarly work; "Nomenclature Alliorum - Allium names and synonyms - a world guide", Kew, 1998, compiled by 5 top taxonomists dealing with the genus Allium, enumerates all known Allium species and synonym epithets. Hand counting the taxa on which the 5 authors generally agree with species/subspecies status, I count 857 taxa (769 species + 88 subspecies). Once part of Liliaceae family, the genus is now the 'type' for the family "Alliaceae", which includes such genera as Ipheion, Nothoscordum, Nectaroscordum, Caloscordum, Tulbaghia, and a few others. Until recently, the North American genera Triteleia, Brodiaea, and Dichelostemma were considered part of the Alliaceae, but were moved into their own family Themidaceae. And of course, the genus Allium is best known for the handful of species which compose the world food crops; onions, leeks, garlic, scallions, and chives. Allium species can be lumped into two types, those that have true bulbs, and those that grow from rhizomes with less-developed vestigial bulbs attached to them. The bulbous alliums tend to grow and flower early, then go completely dormant afterwards. The "rhizomatous" alliums tend to be season-long growers and flower much later in summer. There are many exceptions to these gerenalizations. Consistent with many large genera, the genus Allium is subdivided into sections and subsections that help organize the species into groups of similar species. What I like about Alliums ================== 1. With the great diversity of species, it is possible to have Alliums in flower from early spring (March) to late autumn (or even early winter if the climate is mild enough). When most hardy bulbs have long since finished blooming, the alliums carry on strong through the summer and fall months. 2. The flowers are nectariferous and sweet smelling in many (most) species, attracting swarms of bees, butterflies, and wasps. 3. Growth pattern, dormancy cycles, and general landscape effect can vary dramatically, offering considerable garden appeal and potential. 4. The genus has hardly been touched by the hybridization craze, and is a plum ripe for the picking. 5. There are so many species to whet the appetite, one could never grow them all in a lifetime. 6. In spite of a reputation for being weeds, garnered from a few bad apples (or bad onions) in the genus, such as the horrible crow garlic or A. vineale, most are really delightful plants of subtle and irresistable beauty. Literature ======= There's very little commercially available literature for gardeners interested in learning about the genus. The only popular book that deals with Allium is "Alliums, the Ornamental Onions" by Dilys Davies published in 1992 (now out of print) . It's a good "starter" book to learn about alliums. General bulb books, like Roger Phillips and Martyn Rix's formidable photographic guide; "The Random House book of Bulbs", covers a mere sampling of species given the breadth of species available. One must search out scholarly floras, thesis studies, and other scientific publications, to gain an understanding of the genus. The world awaits a comprehensive treatise on the genus. If only Brian Mathew would consider taking on such an epic work, given his exemplary work "A review of Allium section Allium", 1996, covering 115 species; I'm convinced that he has what it takes to tackle this behemoth of a genus. North American alliums ================= This is a group that is little known, aside from a couple of easy to grow and well-known species; namely Allium cernuum (nodding onion) and A. unifolium (mass propagated by Dutch bulb growers). There are many terrific North American species to try (about 135 taxa). including about 15 Mexican species which are virtually unknown in cultivation and literature. The first complete enumeration and discussion of North American species appears in a Timber Press book (sponsored by the North American Rock Garden Society) entitled "Bulbs of North America". I co-authored the section on Allium with Jim and Georgie Robinett (edited by Jane McGary). To read about or purchase this book, go to: http://timberpress.com/books/index.cfm/… Some favorite alliums =============== A brief smattering of favorite alliums, although I'm leaving out many. Try them, and you'll get hooked too. Allium beesianum - one of the many lovely rhizomatous Chinese species, appreciating some shade and good humusy soil. Mixed up in cultivation and rarely available true-to-name, this is a very beautiful and refined species that begins flowering late August, continuing into September and October. Allium cernuum - the American "nodding onion" is commonplace, yet beautiful. Less known is that it's incredibly variable, from dwarf forms under 6" (15 cm) to tall forms over 2' (60 cm), with flower color from white to deep rose-purple, and found in a whole range of inflorescence, leaf, and plant forms. Allium cuthbertii - a rarely encountered, slow-growing species from southeastern USA. It's a refined beauty, flowering in late June with upright domes of white and pink striped flowers. Allium flavum - European species with informal fireworks sprays of little yellow bells. Variable, from dwarf forms under 15 cm to tall forms 18-24 cm tall. Blooms June-July. LIkes full sun, and prospers in dry soils. Forms with nearly silver-blue glaucous foliage and stems are the most attractive. A. flavum ssp. tauricum - a variant with yellow flowers varaiably tinged with pink, brownish, or other tones. Via selection over the years, a fantastic array of colors has arisen in my garden, from pure pinks, to mauve, white, lime green, tan and beige shades, orange, pinky-orange pastels, deep burnt red and brown-red shades, to name but a few. Most grow only 6-8" tall (15-20 cm). They're a delight in early July. A. guttatum ssp. sardoum - this fine European species has many close allies, and is a good representative of the so-called "drumstick onions"; those that have fine slender stems and a tight knobs of bloom. In this species the flowers are white and the tepals marked with a dark greenish spot. Grows to about 60 cm. A. karataviense - this species is one of many section Melanocrommyum onions, the ball-shaped onions from the high dry mountains of central Asia. The foliage is gorgeous, being very broad, rounded, pleated, and purple stained, like the finest tulip leaf, with large dense globes nested right ontop of the foliage. There are several named clones available. Most "Melanocrommyum" onions are tall giants, such as the famous Allium giganteum. A. mannii - a Mexican species that has proved to be perfectly hardy in the garden. Slow growing, with handsome open clusters of white flowers in July, on 16" (40 cm) stems. It comes closest to A. plummerae, having central ovaries that age to a brownish orange color. A. nutans - from Siberia and other Asian locales, a large and wonderful rhizomatous allium with heavy broad strap-like gray foliage, and dense poms of starry blooms in mid to late summer, the buds initally drooping or nodding, thus the species name. A. perdulce - an American species from the central and southern prairie states. One of the very best and most delicious. Flowers in spring, on 4-6" stems (10-15 cm) with rich pink urn-shaped flowers that have an intense hyacinth-like fragrance. Extremely slow to increase and recalcitrant in cultivation. A. plummerae - a wonderful American species that's hardly known, but should become popular. From southwestern USA mountains, growing at high elevation in most soils, it's a terrific species to grow in good moist garden soil in full sun, making upright tufts of glaucous foliage and upright clusters of ample, star-shaped white flowers and tan to brownish-orange ovaries. A. rotundum - another of the drumstick onions, this one flowers in high summer with tight oblong knobs of deep red-purple, at times appearing nearly black-purple, wafting atop 18"-30" stems (45-75 cm). It's like a smaller, darker, more refined A. sphaerocephalon. A. schoenoprasum (chives). An incredibly polymorphic species, found throughout the northern hemisphere, and is the only species found in both Europe/Asia, and in North America. The familiar chives is much more variable than people realize, from dwarf forms only 6" (15 cm) tall, to much larger plants, with flowers ranging from pure white, through all shades of mauve, lavender, pink, rose and purple. A. senescens - A very common rhizomatous species that makes nice clumps of summer foliage. The European form with glossy strap-shaped green leaves known as A. senescens ssp. montanum, has been taxonomicaly revised and is now named to Allium lusitanicum. The type species A. senescens now refers to the Asian form with gray or glaucous foliage. These plants have dense lollipop spheres of mauve, pink, or rose flowers in mid summer to autumn. A. sibthorpianum - a very dwarf Turkish species that flowers in June. It is allied to Allium flavum, and crosses with A. flavum ssp. tauricum. It only grows 7-10 cm tall, and has charming clusters of pearly pink bells that age raspberry rose. A. stellatum - a tall American species from the Great Plains (central USA) but with a broad distribution from Canada to Mexico, it's extremely variable. I grow summer blooming forms from Canada that flower in July and August, but there are also late forms with rich rose-pink flowers that flower in August-September-October. Interestingly, this species spontaneously crosses with European rhizomatous alliums in the garden, producing some weird and wonderful hybrids. It is closely allied to Allium cernuum. A. togasii (alt. spelling Allium togashii) - a wonderful Japanese species, with fine grassy tufts of foliage in spring and early summer, then multitudes of spherical pinkish globes on short 4"-6" (10-15 cm) stems in August to September. There is a taller form that grows to 16" (40 cm) and flowers in September. I have posted a good number of photos to the PBS wiki allium page at: http://pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/… More photos will be added during the week! What alliums do you grow??? Links to more allium photos and sources: ============================== http://www.plantbuzz.com/Allium/Allium.htm http://plantbuzz.com/Allium/Gallery/… http://plantbuzz.com/Allium/Gallery/… http://edgewoodgardens.net/Gallery/gallery.asp/… http://www.hillkeep.ca/bulbs%20allium.htm http://www.odysseybulbs.com/alliumtoipheion.html http://rareplants.co.uk/gallery1.htm Mark McDonough Pepperell, Massachusetts, United States firstname.lastname@example.org "New England" USDA Zone 5 ============================================== >> web site under construction - http://www.plantbuzz.com/ << alliums, bulbs, penstemons, hardy hibiscus, western american alpines, iris, plants of all types!