The genus Allium (TOW)

Mary Sue Ittner
Tue, 04 Mar 2003 17:02:17 PST
Dear All,

Mark has provided us with an excellent introduction to this week's topic of 
the week. In addition he is showing us all the potential of the wiki not 
just to be a place to show your photographs but a place to share 
information about a genus and particular species that are good garden 
plants. He is working on it a little every day and I recommend you check 
out what he is doing. I am really impressed.…

Doesn't anyone else is this group grow Alliums? I realize that when we have 
an expert in our midst others may be reluctant to speak up. I grow a number 
that are native to California and some others that bloom in the summer.

One thing that always puzzles me is with so many different species and lots 
of warnings that seed from seed exchanges may not be reliably named and 
with such a wide distribution how in the world do you decide when to start 
the seed?

Several times I have purchased ornamental Alliums from commercial sources 
and planted them out and never have they ever bloomed more than one season. 
(Allium uniflorum is the exception.) I expect that it is lack of water in 
my present garden, but when I lived in Stockton I watered my garden in 
summer. Some of these like A. moly were described for naturalizing--not in 
my garden. Still some were very nice the year they bloomed. Some of Mark's 
pictures of them in mass make them look like wonderful garden subjects.

I have good luck growing the natives in containers where some of them 
multiply and bloom for a long time, but not as good luck once they are 
planted out. I've given some to friends who have had better luck however. A 
friend gave me a "native" she didn't want and I was sure it wasn't a 
California species, but planted it anyway and I think it is A. senescens 
and it is doing well as a garden plant. I like the foliage.

Diana and I took a Jepson Herbarium class on taxonomy of California bulbs 
and I was hoping I'd learn some tricks for identifying in the field, but we 
spent most of our time with microscopes. Our teacher was an Allium expert 
and we learned that you tell many of the California species apart by 
looking at their outer coat under the microscope. There are many different 
patterns you can see. Sometimes a hand lens isn't sufficient and sometimes 
the outer coat has rubbed off or disappeared so there is nothing to see 
making identification a challenge. Our teacher told us the coat was very 
protective of Alliums and that sometimes you could get species that had 
spent time in a herbarium to come into growth years later if they still had 
their protective coat. He made it sound like they could tolerate dry 
storage much better than you might think.

Bulbs of North America was a wonderful addition for those of us interested 
in native bulbs. I had already gotten interested in them when Jim and 
Georgie Robinett gave a talk to our local California Native Plant Society 
quite a number of years ago. I have many seedlings coming on from Northwest 
Natives, but these are the ones I have been growing and flowering regularly:

1. Allium amplectans-- Mark has some interesting information about it on 
the wiki and some nice pictures. I like it a lot but must not have the 
desert form since I leave mine out to be rained on and it doesn't suffer 
from that. I understand it is good eating, but how could you...

2. Allium bolanderi-- I grew this from seed and I have a dark form and it 
looks a lot like Allium peninsulare which I also grow. When I look at the 
pictures I take I have a hard time telling them apart although one is 
slightly bigger, but the bulbs are different.

3. Allium crispum--I think I mentioned before I really like this one. It is 
really long blooming and very pretty, but does better in a colder winter I 

4. Allium campanulatum and Allium membranceum-- These two are very similar 
and I have struggled over keying them out and I think I have both. They are 
very intricately marked, fun to look at under a lens. Doug Westfall found 
an Allium on his mountain property in Southern California that he sent me 
and I got a friend to help me key it out and we got Allium membranceum, but 
that wasn't supposed to be where he found it so maybe it was the other.

5. Allium hyalinum--This one sparkles and is really cute. It multiplies 
fast and blooms from little bulbs and is described as a naturalizer, but 
hasn't been for me (unless you count naturalizing in containers.)

6. Allium haematochiton is practically evergreen if you water it but also 
copes with summer dry. It doubles every year and blooms a long time. I've 
had it start blooming last year in December, but then take a break and 
bloom again in spring. It is blooming now.

7. Allium falcifolium--I have no luck with seed of this, but have a couple 
that I manage to keep  every year without gaining any. It is late to appear 
and I always worry that it isn't coming back.

8. Allium serra is an early bloomer, pink, sort of pom pom like. I find 
mine dwindle so start some more every now and then as they are easy from 
seed. So I must not be doing something they like.

9. Allium uniflorum is native to my area where it is found growing in very 
wet places. It is one of Alliums people often grow and it is easy for me too.

10. Allium praecox--I grew this one from seed and it is also one I think is 
very pretty. I put a picture of it on the American Allium page.

11. Allium sanbornii-- I have grown two subspecies of this and Allium 
jepsonii which is very similar. They aren't my favorites. Allium sanbornii 
var. sanbornii is considered a rare plant and I don't always get it to 
bloom. Once I did and it was very pretty. It is a late bloomer and I get 
very conflicted about how much water it might need. It hasn't bloomed yet, 
should I still be watering it? Will I kill it if I keep on? That kind of 
thing. I think I may plant some of the non rare ones out and see how they 
do when I can't hover over them.

12. Allium dichlamydeum--I've saved one of my favorites for last. This one 
is native to my part of the world and I often see it blooming when I hike, 
growing on the bluffs or in the rocks within sight of the Pacific Ocean. I 
put a habitat picture on the wiki. I have found it very easy to grow and it 
is a pretty color. The deer ate some I planted in my garden one year so 
someone didn't tell them they aren't supposed to like Alliums.

One of my friends who has both gophers and deer has found that of all the 
native bulbs I have given her and she has planted out the Alliums have 
survived the predators the best.

Anyone with any tips for photographing these. I find many of my pictures 
don't do them justice. I am interested in seeing if my husband does better 
with the digital camera. Many of the ones I grow are sending up buds so 
soon I'll find out.

Mary Sue

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