Don’t Overlook Nodding Wild Onion


With all the showy golden daisies currently blooming in prairies and prairie gardens, one might not notice the charming Nodding Wild Onion that’s just beginning to bloom.

Sharply nodding, leafless stems rise 18” from long flat, narrow, onion-like basal leaves.

nodding wild onion 2

We can easily see why Allium cernuum is called “Nodding Wild Onion.”

Clusters of individual, tiny bells form an umbel at the end of the stems, white at first, then becoming pink and rose as they age.

nodding eild onion 3

Nodding and pinkish.

nodding wild onion 3

Still nodding, but definitely pink.

nodding wild onion crook

A crook in the stem, but the blossoms have become a sphere.  Tiny individual pink bells with conspicuous yellow-tipped stamens form a globular umbel.

I don’t remember where I first planted Nodding Wild Onion, but all my gardens have welcomed them.

As an edging:

June's entry garden

It combines beautifully with Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis), in bloom now also.  Tuck Nodding Wild Onion and Wild Petunia between clumps of  Prairie Drop Seed (Sporobolis heterolepis), all in bloom now, as an edging to a sunny walk.

One of its favorite places to grow is within sidewalk cracks…

front steps, nodding wild onion

Nodding Wild Onion growing out of a sidewalk crack next to the front steps

nodding best one

At the bottom of my front steps combined with Showy black-eyed Susan and Little Bluestem, all of them self-seeded.

nodding wild onion on patio

It thrives between flagstones in my patio.

nodding wild onion and joe pye

Part of a mixed savanna garden with  Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium purpureum) in the background.

nodding wild onion and phlox

Edge of a savanna garden amongst Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculata).

Phlox paniculata is native to moist woodlands in our area, but this was at the edge of my back yard when I moved here  (actually it wass the only herbaceous plant in my whole yard).  It is undoubtably a cultivated specimen.

Nodding Wild Onion multiplies by offsets and self-seeding, but it always fits into a situation, never becoming bossy and overtaking the whole garden. Wherever it pops up, it is just the right place.  Tuck a few plants in around the edges of your gardens and you will always have some to enjoy.  It attracts bees and, it is said, butterflies and hummingbirds.

In the wild, it is found in remnant prairies and open woodland.  It likes calcareous situations, which is why it prefers to grow next to concrete or flagstone.

Trivia: another nickname for it is ‘Ladies’ Leek’.  It has a strong onion flavor and may be used in cooking.




6 Responses to Don’t Overlook Nodding Wild Onion

  1. Jason August 16, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    Good recommendation. There is a need for low-growing blooms in late summer, something to contrast with all the yellow daisies. It’s definitely true that the bees love this plant.

  2. mike weis August 16, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    I planted two a couple years ago and now I have about a dozen! And thanks to your recommendation, they look perfect next to the Wild Petunia that is happily multiplying all over the place. Can Nodding Onion be transplanted? If so, when is it a good time to do so?

    • Pat Hill August 18, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

      Yes, they are easy to transplant because they are shallow-rooted. September would be a good time to do it. Dead head it and cut the leaves back by half and keep watered. They should do fine.

  3. Patty August 16, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

    This sounds like a good plant to add to our garden. Thanks, Pat

  4. June Keibler August 16, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    I agree completely that nodding onion is a particularly lovely and accommodating plant adding beaut\y to every spot in the garden that it sneaks into.

  5. Suzanne Massion August 18, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

    Pat, your images of nodding wild onion are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I think I’ve spotted some out in the prairie in previous years. You’ve reminded me to go look for them.

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