|Upside down in this pic, these onion sets form at the top of the stem|
There aren’t too many do-nothing perennial vegetables, but one of them is the Egyptian walking onion, Allium cepa var. proliferum.
That variety name, proliferum, isn’t because these onions produce well, although they do. It comes from the botanical term proliferation or prolification, which means that a plant part can sprout from another plant part.
In this case, the flower at the top of the stem forms into small onions – but often enough also sprouts another stem from the flower, with another flower head and, if you’re lucky, yet another onion set.
|The elflike flower caps|
This makes the walking onion an entertaining plant to have around, especially if you have kids and want to get them interested in gardening.
The plant begins to perform very early in spring with the new leaves, which you can use like chives. They grow from a base that tastes like mild, slightly watery green onions. Even the flowers are edible and, like all culinary alliums, the florets make pretty garnishes.
As perennials, they let you have onions for your salads just about anytime from spring to fall, year after year. You can also save the onion sets and enjoy them like shallots when the weather cools. They tend to be on the wee side, but you can’t argue with that much utility.
In summer, walking onions put on an engaging floral show. I’ve described them as the Carmen Miranda of onions for their unusual flower heads. The shape is as unpredictable as fireworks; well, as unpredictable as unpredictable fireworks. In 2008, I showed them doing a deer act in this post on Alliums. And I captured more of their tricks in this set on Flickr.
As they ripen, their heavy heads cause the weakening hollow stems to bend, and the onion starts walking… to another spot in your garden. Unlike some plant volunteers, they’re easy to find and transplant or give away. Walking onions grow in just about any soil, and even thrive (albeit, a little leggily) in my part-shade garden.
I’ll be donating some to the East York Garden Club plant sale on Thursday, May 19. If you’re in the nabe, why not walk right over!
I desperately want some of these. As with all veg and me, it's all about the look of the thing. I just find them fascinating. Sadly East York Gardning Club may be a little far to stroll…
I started growing some of these this year, only to have a squirrel go at them week after week. They're still hanging in, but they are in a sorry state 🙁
Good post. I'd heard of these in passing, but it was good to get the particulars.
I love Egyptian Walking Onions and have several clumps in my garden. I give away lots of the onion sets to share these fascinating plants with others.
Crafty Gardener, I know this post is years old but, i want to put some of these in my perennial bed. If you have any extra bulbules to share, i would be very interested! please contact me at email@example.com if you'd be ok with me coming to pick some up when they're available.
Kiki, I'm not sure where you live, but you might be able to get some from me.
Interesting looking onion. I almost forgot a friend gave me one bulb to try and I have not planted them yet.Unique looking flower.
Suspect cats might move them further than they can walk in my garden.
I like Egyptian Walking Onions so much, but I've never gotten around to planting them. I'll have to save a few heads from the public plantings around here in the fall.
These are great fun and I planted them for several years, but finally gave up when I ran out of plant sales and friends who wanted some.