FIRST IMPRESSIONS: This diminutive bulb has narrow grass-like leaves. The flower scape towers above the foliage and bears an umbrella shaped cluster of starry pink pendant flowers during summer. Culture is very easy since plants are drought tolerant with few pests.
HABITAT & HARDINESS: This native is found in prairies, rocky outcrops and at the edge of dry open woodlands in the Eastern and Western United States and Canada.
Plants are hardy in USDA Zones 4-8.
PLANT DESCRIPTION: Plants resemble cultivated onions or daffodils. They form a rosette of strap shaped leaves that originate from a bulb below the ground. All parts of the plant have a distinct oniony scent. Allium cernuum is a cool season perennial that does most of its growing during cool weather. Plants usually go dormant in summer after blooming and leaves disappear until cool weather returns.
During summer a flower scape emerges bearing an umbel shaped inflorescence. The entire loose flower cluster is about 2 inches across. It contains 40 or more small dangling lilac colored florets.
Hummingbirds are said to love the nectar. Flowers also attract butterflies, native bees and honeybees. Insects that nectar here must be able to hang upside down.
Plants are 1-2’ tall with a 1’ spread at maturity.
CULTURAL & MAINTENANCE NEEDS: Culture is easy as long as plants have sun and well drained soil.
Plants tolerate drought. They prefer alkaline or neutral soil but will adapt to acidity. Plants self-seed and should be deadheaded if this is a problem.
This is a very tough plant that may be perfect for a troublesome or harsh garden site. Due to the oniony flavor and scent, plants are usually unappealing to deer and other herbivores.
LANDSCAPE USES: Plant in Meadow or Prairie Gardens. In residential sites, locate small Groups of plants throughout sunny areas or in a Rock Garden. Allium cernuum is a wonderful Accent when the unique flowers are present. It is at home in Herb Gardens or Perennial Borders. Plants are also used as a Butterfly Nectar Plant, Butterfly Host Plant, Cut Flower and as part of a Groundcover or Mass Planting. They provide Showy Blooms, Winter Interest and are valuable components of Cottage Gardens, Deer Resistant Plantings, Water-wise Landscapes, Low Maintenance Plantings and Wildlife Gardens.
COMPANION & UNDERSTUDY PLANTS: At woodland’s edge plants mingle well with sedge groundcovers. In sunnier sites, Echinacea purpurea and Asclepias tuberosa are good companions because the three have blooms that usually coincide.
Texturally some of the low growing finer textured prairie grasses like Sporobolis heterolepis or Bouteloua curtipendula might be used as a substitute if needed.
TRIVIA: Allium cernuum is a member of the Lily Family and has the widest range of any of the native Allium spp.
The pendant or nodding flowers are an adaptation that may have occurred to limit the number of pollinators that visit or to protect the nectar from rainwater.
Used medicinally by Native Americans and early settlers as a poultice for respiratory problems, coughs and colds. Also used in cooking since all parts are edible.
Host to the Hairstreak Butterfly Caterpillar.
For more information on this plant, visit the USDA PLANTS Database: http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=ALCE2