Big Ball Alliums

This group, the big ball onions with great spherical heads of bloom, is probably the best known of all the "ornamental onions". The group is better known as Allium section Melanocrommyum, with Allium giganteum probably the most famous of the lot. Available in the autumn where Dutch bulbs are sold, these spring to early summer blooming onions are easy to grow when given good drainage or light loamy soil in full sun, making spectacular accents in the garden. They dry up and retreat into dormancy immediately after flowering.


Allium cristophii (often misspelled as christophii) is a species with blue-purple flowers. It is native to central Turkey (Kayseri), northern Iran, and Turkmenistan. It widely cultivated. In cultivation, I put the plants into a dry summer dormancy after flowers/seeds have developed. When winter comes around, even if water is available, the bulbs will only make roots and will not emerge until spring. Flower photos by Nhu Nguyen. Photo 1 shows details of the flowers. Photos 2-3 show the inflorescence(s) grown in the ground in front of a dazzling display of the iceplant Drosanthemum bicolor. Bulb photo by David Pilling.

Allium cristophii, Nhu NguyenAllium cristophii, Nhu NguyenAllium cristophii, Nhu NguyenAllium cristophii, David Pilling

Allium 'Gladiator' is one of the many giant ball-shaped onions in varying shades of purple. This one is a cross between A. hollandicum (syn. A. aflatunense of Hort.) x macleanii (probably). It has robust growth green leafage, tall stems of about 4' (120 cm), and lilac-purple flowers. Photo by Mark McDonough.

Allium 'Gladiator', Mark McDonough

Allium 'Globemaster' is a fantastic cross between Allium macleanii x cristophii, made by Jan Bijl, requiring nearly 20 years to bring it into commercially scaled production. It has dense globes of purple starry flowers that have that same metallic sheen evidenced by A. cristophii (often misspelled "christophii"). The floral globes start out 4-5" across, but since the new buds pop out just beyond the spent blooms, the great spheres of bloom grow in size over several weeks. Under good conditions, the bloom heads can exceed 11" (28 cm) across! Photo by Mark McDonough.

Allium 'Globemaster', Mark McDonough

One of the best features of the "big ball" type of alliums are the fantastic seed heads. Here's a photo of two dried 'Globemaster' seed heads, taken recently in my office at work. The dried seed structures are about 8 years old now, but still hold their decorative appeal. Photographed up against a brick wall, and knowing that a brick is 8" (20 cm) wide, you'll get a good idea just how huge the bloom heads can get. Photo by Mark McDonough, taken 3/6/03.

Allium 'Globemaster' seed head, Mark McDonough

Allium 'Globus' is reportedly a hybrid between A. karataviense and possibly A. cristophii. Much shorter stature to about 18" (45 cm) or a little taller, and undiminished balls of purple. Photo by Mark McDonough.

Allium 'Globus', Mark McDonough

Allium jesdianum ssp. angustitepalum was previously sold as A. rosenbachianum (a very different species). It seems that the nomenclature is sorted out. I like this species as it has beautiful two-toned flowers (rose-purple and prominent white stamens), held in graceful hemispheres, on stems only about 24-30" (60-75 cm). There are several named cultivars, but I like this subspecies the best. Photo by Mark McDonough.

Allium jesdianum ssp. angustitepalum, Mark McDonough

Allium karataviense is a native of Central Asia where it grows in loose limestone scree and blooms in April and May. It is a popular rock garden plant with flowers that are dried for flower arrangements. It also had beautiful broad foliage. In the first two photographs below taken by Mark McDonough we see regular A. karataviense on the left (purplish tinged foliage) and A. karataviense 'Ivory Queen' on the right (no purple tinge); the final photo by Oron Peri is of A. karataviense in its habitat.

Allium karataviense, Mark McDonoughAllium karataviense, Mark McDonoughAllium karataviense in habitat, Aksu Zhabaghli, 2900 m, Kazakhstan, Oron Peri

Allium karataviense 'Ivory Queen' is a fantastic clean white form of this popular species. It flowers the same time as the regular pinkish form, seen on the left. Photos by Mark McDonough.

Allium karataviense 'Ivory Queen', Mark McDonoughAllium karataviense 'Ivory Queen', Mark McDonoughAllium karataviense 'Ivory Queen', Mark McDonough

Allium karataviense 'Red Globe' - This is a recently available form of A. karataviense that's very different, flowering much earlier, with much larger and longer gray foliage, and huge globes of dark red-violet flowers. The first photo shows 3 bulbs in full bloom. The second shot shows the inflorescence swelling with red-purple seed pods and the much smaller flower globe of typical A. karataviense in the background. It's hard to believe that this hasn't been identified as a new species of subspecies of A. karataviense. Evidently, A. karataviense in the wild is extremely variable. Photos by Mark McDonough.

Allium karataviense 'Red Globe', Mark McDonoughAllium karataviense 'Red Globe', Mark McDonough

Allium karataviense (wild collected forms) - The following photos show 3 different forms of wild collected Allium karataviense, showing considerable diversity in foliar and flower form. The one in the center, with red flowers, is from the same locale where 'Red Globe' was first collected. All three collections are from Central Asia.

Allium karataviense, Mark McDonoughAllium karataviense, Mark McDonough

Allium 'Lucy Ball' is another cross from the same parentage as 'Gladiator', namely between A. hollandicum (syn. A. aflatunense of Hort.) x macleanii (probably). The cultivar seems prone to rot in my garden, and I haven't bothered replacing it recently. The first photo shows the tight buds, and the second photo shows an inflorescence at full anthesis. Photos by Mark McDonough.

Allium 'Lucy Ball', Mark McDonoughAllium 'Lucy Ball', Mark McDonough

Allium 'Mount Everest' is a hybrid of A. stipitatum and A. hollandicum produced by Langendijk Brothers in Holland. The stems are over three feet tall and flowers about 5 inches across; it blooms around the end of May, slightly later than the typical purple big ball alliums. It is similar to Allium 'Mont Blanc'. Photographs by David Pilling.

Allium 'Mount Everest', David PillingAllium 'Mount Everest', David Pilling

Allium schubertii is a fantastic, whimsical giant onion, with flower pedicels of various length, creating a big spidery ball of blooms. Not reliably hardy in cold climates. - The first photo was taken by Lauw de Jager. The second from Kelly Irvin is an example where they are planted too close together. This picture might help with imagining the actual size of the inflorescence. The young model accompanying the onions goes by the name Gabriel. The third was taken in its habitat in the Golan Heights- Syria by Oron Peri. Photo 4 of commercially supplied bulbs on a 10 mm grid and photo 5 of shoots in January by David Pilling

Allium schubertii, Lauw de JagerAllium schubertii, Kelly IrvinAllium schubertii, Oron PeriAllium schubertii, David PillingAllium schubertii 20th January 2014, David Pilling

Allium index - Allium flavum Relatives - Allium hybrids - American alliums A-B - American alliums C - American alliums D-F - American alliums G-H - American alliums I-M - American alliums N-R - American alliums S-Z - Blue alliums - chives - Domed alliums - Drumstick alliums - Miscellaneous alliums A-E - Miscellaneous alliums F-M - Miscellaneous alliums N-R - Miscellaneous alliums S-Z - Rhizomatous alliums


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Page last modified on January 21, 2014, at 06:22 PM