Wild Garlic (Allium vineale)

Family:

Lily Family (Liliaceae)

Other Names:

crow garlic, field garlic, scallions, wild onion.

Origin and Distribution:

Wild garlic originated in Europe. It can be found in the eastern half of the U.S. and the western region of the Pacific Northwest, and is widespread throughout Ohio. This species is drought tolerant, and can grow in a variety of soil types ranging from heavy, wet soils to dry, sandy or gravelly soils. Wild garlic is common in grain fields, pastures, meadows, lawns, gardens and waste places, as well as along roads, rivers and streams.

Plant Description:

Wild garlic is a grass-like, bulb-forming perennial characterized by slender, erect stems and leaves, and a globe-like flower head produced at the top of each stem, composed mostly of tiny aerial bulblets rather than flowers. This species reproduces by underground and aerial bulblets, and less frequently by seeds (plants in the northern part of the range rarely produce seeds). When crushed, all parts of the plant give off a strong garlic odor.

  • Root System:

    The primary underground structure is a bulb (2/5 to 4/5 inch wide), which produces fibrous roots from the bottom surface. Bulbs are oval or rounded, and covered with a brittle, membranous, papery outer layer. Mature bulbs produce 2 types of underground bulblets at the base. Soft-coated bulblets (1/3 to 2/3 inch long) are white and teardrop-shaped, and can germinate the first autumn. Hard-coated bulblets (1/2 inch long) are light brown, oval and flattened on one side, and germinate the following spring or later.

  • Seedlings and Shoots:

    Seedlings produce grass-like, hollow, rounded leaves.

  • Stems:

    The smooth, waxy stems are erect, unbranched, slender and rounded, and can grow 1 to 3 1/2 feet high. Stems are solid, and become rigid with age.

  • Leaves:

    Basal leaves emerge from the bulb, and are 1/2 to 2 feet long, slender, smooth, hollow, and nearly round in cross section. Stem leaves are produced along the lower half of the stem, and are composed of a tubular sheath surrounding the stem and a smooth, hollow, grass-like blade. The blades are flattened at the base, but nearly round toward the end. The sheaths cover the lower half of the stem.

  • Flowers:

    Flowers and/or aerial bulblets are produced in dense spherical clusters (3/4 to 2 inches wide) at the tops of stems. Clusters are initially covered in a papery bract (spathe). Flowers are purplish to greenish (sometimes white), with 6 small petals, and are borne on short stalks above the bulblets. Aerial bulblets are commonly produced in place of some or all the flowers, and are oval or teardrop-shaped and very small (1/8 to 1/5 inch long). They are smooth, shiny, and often develop miniature, tail-like green leaves.

  • Fruits and Seeds:

    From the flowers, 2-seeded fruits are produced in egg-shaped capsules. Seeds are 1/8 inch long, flattened on one side, dull black, and wrinkled.

Similar Species:

The native wild onion (sometimes called 'wild garlic', Allium canadense) can be distinguished from wild garlic by the fibrous-matted outer coating on the bulb, flattened solid leaves, star-shaped pink or whitish flowers and an onion-like taste. In addition, wild onion does not produce dormant hard-coated underground bulblets, and its stem leaves are attached to the lower 1/5 of the stem.

Biology:

Basal leaves of wild garlic emerge in early spring. Flowering occurs from May to June. After flowering, the leaves die back, and the flower stems may remain standing through the summer and into fall. Aerial and soft-coated bulblets can germinate the same season they are produced, while hard-coated bulblets remain dormant through the winter and germinate the following spring or within the next 1 to 5 years. Sometimes aerial bulblets germinate in the stem-top clusters while the stems are still standing.

Wild garlic is a troublesome weed that is difficult to control. Aerial bulblets are similar in size to wheat grain, and are difficult to separate out of wheat contaminated during harvest. The bulblets can give flour a garlic flavor and odor. If wild garlic is used as forage by livestock and poultry, the resulting meat, milk and eggs can become tainted with a garlic odor and flavor. In large infested areas, a regime of fall tillage followed by spring tillage and a clean cultivated crop, if done for several years, will reduce the number of bulbs in the soil. For isolated patches of wild garlic, hand removal is the most effective method.

Toxicity:

None known. However, its native relative, the wild onion, is toxic to livestock and humans.

Facts and Folklore:

  • In Europe, wild garlic was used for flavoring food.

  • Wild garlic arrived in America mixed in soil used for ballast on European ships. The weedy stowaway was dumped ashore to make room for the return cargo.