Lily family (Liliaceae)
Description: This native perennial plant consists of a rosette of basal leaves that are about 6-12" long and 1/8" across. These erect to semi-erect leaves are linear, flat, and curve slightly outward. Each leaf has a keel along its length, while the margins are smooth. Occasionally, flowering stems emerge from the ground that are the same height as the leaves, or slightly higher. These stems are round, rather than flat, and are held stiffly erect. Each stem develops an inflorescence from within a white sack-like covering that has a pointed tip. This covering splits open and withers away to reveal an umbel of about 6-12 flowers or a similar number of sessile bulblets (frequently some combination of both). The star-shaped flowers are about ½" across; they have 6 tepals that are white, light pink, or pink. Each bulbet is about ½" long, oblong, and white to pinkish red. Wild Garlic is especially likely to flower or have reddish bulbets in a sunny situation. The blooming period occurs during early summer and lasts about a month. There is no floral scent, although the foliage exudes a typical onion scent. The root system consists of a bulb with thick fibrous roots, from which offsets may occasionally form. This plant can also reproduce by the seeds or bulblets in the inflorescence.
Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, and moist to mesic conditions. This plant also grows in light shade in woodland areas, but is less likely to flower. Growth is best in a fertile loam, although other kinds of soil are tolerated. This plant also tolerates some drought. Wild Garlic spreads readily by means of offsets and bulblets, but often fails to produce viable seeds.
Range & Habitat: Wild Garlic occurs in every county of Illinois and is quite common (see Distribution Map). Habitats include moist to mesic black soil prairies, upland and floodplain woodlands, moist meadows near rivers and woodlands, thickets, borders of lakes, edges of bluffs, abandoned fields and pastures, areas along railroads and roadsides, and miscellaneous waste areas. This plant has low fidelity to any particular habitat; it is often observed in degraded prairies. This plant doesn't compete well against taller forbs, such as Solidago canadensis (Canada Goldenrod), preferring areas with less ground cover.
Faunal Associations: Small bees are the most important pollinators of the flowers. Flower flies also visit the flowers, but they feed on pollen and are less effective at pollination. Rabbits avoid consumption of this plant because they appear to dislike the onion scent and spicy taste of the foliage. However, some larger herbivores, such as cattle, will consume Wild Garlic along with the grass. This can cause milk to have an off-flavor. Both the foliage and bulbs are edible, although large amounts may be slightly toxic.
Photographic Location: The photographs were taken at Red Bison Railroad Prairie in Savoy, Illinois.
Comments: This is the most common native Allium sp. (Onion) in Illinois prairies. It can be readily distinguished from other native onions, such as Allium stellatum (Cliff Onion) and Allium cernuum (Nodding Onion), by the presence of aerial bulblets. Some exotic onions occur in Illinois, such as Allium vineale (Field Garlic), that also produce such bulblets. These exotic onions have leaves that are more round and hollow, while Wild Garlic has leaves that are flat and solid (like other native onions). There is a variety of the Wild Garlic (Allium canadense var. mobilense) that produces only flowers, rather than bulblets and flowers or only bulblets. However, it is less common than the typical variety, as shown in the photographs.