|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!