What is a garlicule? was Re: The world's most desired bulb

oooOIOooo via pbs pbs@lists.pacificbulbsociety.net
Thu, 16 Apr 2020 09:35:28 PDT

> Are garlicules= bulblets and carpules= cloves of garlic? Do you consume the bulblets or are those meant for planting?

"Garlicule" is a jocular novodixi. "Carpule" of "carpel" are botanical terms for the structure containing the egg or eggs. After fertilization it usually grows larger as the seed or seeds develop. Most plants have more than one carpel per flower. They are attached together in such a way most people would not notice they are separate structures without looking carefully. When the attached carpules mature and dry they are referred to colloquially as "seed pods." The botanical term for a seed pod is "fruit."

Monocots, including garlic, and almost all the plants we like to talk about here, normally have three carpels per flower. If you've ever looked at the fruits of Gladiolus, garlic, freesias, lilies, Agave or Yucca you will probably notice they have three longitudinal parts. They often come apart at these seams, revealing the seeds in the three parts of the fruit. The botanical term for seed pods coming apart is "dehiscence." The way seed pods come apart is often used to differentiate species in other parts of the plant world, but almost all (all? I haven't met all of them) monocots have dehiscence along the seams separating the original carpules.

Other plants have differing numbers of carpels. Milkweeds and oleanders have two. The rose family, including things like apples, pears, stone fruits and berries, has five carpules. They're not easy to see because they are so well fused, and the true fruit is buried deeply inside the part we eat. When you cut an apple or pear, the woody section inside containing the seeds is the fruit. The yummy part is extremely modified stem that grows around the fruit. This protects it and attracts seed dispersing animals.

Anyway... An allium inflorescence (garlic, chives, onions, etc.) contains many small flowers. Normally each will produce a small 3-part carpel containing several black seeds at maturity. My particular garlic variety, however, did not produce any carpules. Instead it produced what appears to me to be one very small bulb in the place of each fruit. I jokingly referred to them as garlicules, derived from an elision of garlic and carpule; that was incorrect; the proper term would be garlifruits. I'm too lazy to peel tiny little bulbs like that, but I'm pretty sure they're edible.

Producing plants rather than fruits is not limited to alliums. Some agaves do this. Agave plantlets formed from flowers are referred to as bulbils. Agave rosettes die after flowering. Through bulbil production a dying plant can produce progeny even if not pollinated, and get another chance at genetic recombination. When this happens there is usually one Agave bulbil per carpel, or three per flower. Many bulbils proliferate further on the inflorescence, so one can get tens of thousands of bulbils per inflorescence. Some species, like Agave murpheyi or A. angustifolia v. tequilana (previously A. tequilana) almost never produce seed, only bulbils. Other species, like A. gypsophila and A. vilmoriniana, produce seeds when pollinated and bulbils when not pollinated.

People have selected special varieties of useful plants over the millennia. Useful plants easy to propagate are even more desirable. With normal garlic, at the end of the growing season, the bulb system (what we call head) of one plant can be divided into 7-15 individual bulbs (cloves) for next year. But that means people can't eat the cloves set aside for planting. This garlic produces hundreds of tiny bulbs. Not only can people eat the whole head, saving only the tiny bulbs for next year, but this variety produces hundreds of propagules, not just 7-15. (A propagule is a piece of plant that will grow into a whole plant.)

Similarly with Agave: Many species were food or fiber plants in the American Southwest and Mesoamerica. From seed to flowering is 10-25, or more, years. I have flowered A. murpheyi from a bulbil in less than 10 years. A plant producing bulbils will be much easier and quicker to propagate than one that needs to be raised from seed. I believe all the dozen or so known food agaves produce bulbils instead of seeds. Almost all useful agaves that were cultivated also have prodigious basal offsetting, which makes propagation even easier.

Leo Martin
Phoenix Arizona USA
Zone 9?

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