Wild Garlic

I was out doing my Streamkeeper observations earlier this week and couldn’t help noticing the new leaves coming up in the early part of February. We have had an unusually warm winter. The most abundant, of course, are the dreaded lesser celandine. These are among the earliest spring wildflowers.

Click here for a discussion of this beautiful pest. However, there were also abundant grass-like shoots growing profusely among the celandine.

I have seen these many times before. They show up frequently in my early spring wildflower photos, but I never stopped to ask what they were. I pulled one up for a better look (I know I’m not supposed to do this, but there are millions of them).

They have somewhat tubular shoots and a bulb at the base resembling an onion. Although identification would probably be easier later in the year, I think this is Wild Garlic, also known as Field Garlic (Allium vineale). The other possibility, Allium canadense, should have flatter grass-like leaves. Allium vineale is an invasive native to Europe and Asia, while Allium canadense is native. Like the celandine, they seem to grow most abundantly in wet areas near the creek, but are also seen in higher, drier areas of the preserve. Allium vineale is a common invasive in the Mid-Atlantic states and also in Illinois.

Plants in the genus Allium include onions, garlic, leeks, shallots etc. Allium vineale is collected by foragers and is apparently edible when young, eaten for its garlic flavor. (Disclaimer: nothing on this website should be taken as verification that anything is safe to eat.) It spreads by producing propagative bulblets off the main bulb leading to clusters of plants. Most of the plants do not appear to flower. They usually disappear by summer, or at least are covered by other taller plants. However, a few may give rise to a flowering stem. I took this picture a few years ago along the Creek Road Trail near where the samples above were seen.

At the base of the stems of the flowers are seen round, pointed structures, which are aerial bulblets. Most of the reproduction of this plant comes from either producing bulblets underground, or dropping bulblets from the flower. Seed production from the flowers also occurs, but less commonly than propagation from bulblets. The long, pointed bracts are also characteristic of Allium vineale.

In fields or lawns, Allium vineale can be a pest. If cattle graze it, it can impart a garlic flavor to the milk. Here in the Pennypack Preserve it is well established, and will be a permanent part of the landscape. I have an ambivalent attitude towards established invasives (being one myself). If they are not destructive, and can’t be eradicated safely, we sometimes have to learn to live with them, and perhaps appreciate them a little.

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