Simply The Best Natives-Nodding Onion


“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”   ~Ray Bradbury



About 7 years ago, when I purchased my first native plants, there was an interesting onion-looking plant among the group I brought home.  And soon after I planted it, a lovely Allium flower appeared in mid to late summer.

This plant, labeled Nodding Onion, is known as Allium cernuum part of the Lily Family (Liliaceae).  It DSCN1851is closely related to A. stellatum or Autumn Wild Onion, but you can spot the difference when they flower as A. cernuum has the distinctive nodding flower blooming from July through August.  

Nodding Onion is hardy from zones 4 to 8.  It can be found in dry to moist prairies and along stream banks from Canada to Mexico.  The grass-like foliage grows 1-2 feet high from a bulb.  True to its name, the plant has a mild onion scent.  As you can see in the picture above, the stem bends to allow the pinkish-purple flowers to nod toward the ground. 



As I profile this wonderful native plant, I am linking in with Gail@Clay and Limestone for her Wildflower Wednesday meme.  And I am joining forces once again this year with a local native plant nursery, Amanda’s Garden, to buy native plants for my garden.  The owner, Ellen Folts, specializes in woodland, prairie and wetland native perennials.  Check out her wonderful 2015 Spring Catalog to see which natives Ellen is selling this year.




Growing Conditions

DSCN6573This perennial herb requires part to full sun, and moist conditions to grow into a nice clump.  I keep mine in the drier front garden where I can control it a bit.  Once you allow this plant to naturalize, you will need to divide clumps every few years. 

Nodding Onion does like average to well-drained soil that is not too compacted.  The foliage dies back in early fall.

This Allium easily grows from seed or bulb once established.  I try to catch mine in early fall, before the seeds scatter so I am not overrun by it.  When starting this plant in your garden, transplant the bulb as it is easier than trying to germinate the seed.




Benefits to Wildlife 

DSCN1852Wildlife seems to love this plant.  Bulbs are sought after by bears and ground squirrels, and elk and deer will sometimes browse the early spring foliage.  Hairstreak butterflies are drawn to this plant as are hummingbirds.

The nectar and pollen of the flower attracts bees primarily as bees find it easier to hang upside down on the nodding flowers.  It is said the nodding of the flower protects the pollen from rain.





Allium cernuum is great in rock gardens, borders, cottage gardens or areas you want to naturalize with natives.

DSCN8297It tolerates browsing animals, drought, dry rocky soil as well as Black Walnut trees.

Nodding onions were used in cooking long ago, but not so much today.  I have read warnings that this plant is poisonous, but can be eaten in small amounts.  I have tried eating the bulbs in salad, for its mild onion flavor, with no ill effects.  If you do eat too much of the plant, you could have nausea, vomiting and diarrhea so use caution.

This plant also is said to have medicinal uses similar to garlic (Allium sativum).  It is used to treat respiratory ailments, kidney stones, colds, croup, sore throats and sores.  

The juice of the plant is also used as a repellent for insects, moles and biting insects.




Folklore and Tales DSCN8301

Native American tribes used the bulbs of Nodding Onion to treat cough, colic, colds and fevers.  

The leaves and bulbs were also eaten sparingly by some tribes.  They would mostly steam the plant in pits.  Once collected they would also dry them for use later.  

It is said that the city of Chicago gets its name from the Algonquin Indian name for this plant, chigagou.







Do you grow a native Allium?  Do you have a favorite Allium?




Join In The Seasonal Celebration:

As I feel autumn’s call to celebrate the coming season, I hope you will join in the celebration. I welcome those Down Under who will be celebrating the coming of spring to join in too.  

All you have to do is write a post between now and September 23rd  telling me how you are celebrating the new season.  Then leave a comment on the kick-off post with your link so I can include your link in my summary post on September 28th.  

I do hope you will consider joining in the Seasonal Celebrations meme as we celebrate the new season in your corner of the world.

And as always, I will be collaborating with Beth@Plant Postings and her Lessons Learned meme at this same time.  What lessons have you learned this past season of summer here in the Northern Hemisphere and winter in the Southern Hemisphere.  Write a separate post or combine your Lessons with your Celebrations for one post.




In A Vase On Monday 



lrg cut vase

The Cutting Garden is still going strong with loads of cosmos and sunflowers so they were perfect for this week’s vase.




lrg cutting vase

The few zinnia still blooming were too gorgeous not to cut and bring in for this vase.  I also added a bit of Baptisia foliage for a nice grey-green contrast. 




small cutting vase

I thought I would make a smaller vase as there were plenty of lovely blooms around the garden:  snapdragons or Antirrhinums, Japanese anemones, cosmos, Tagetes and tithonia.  Nepeta was reblooming with lavender making a great addition to this vase.


I am joining in with a few memes this week as I prepare these vases:  Cathy@Rambling in the Garden for her wonderful meme, In a Vase on Monday, Today’s Flowers hosted by Denise@An English Girl Rambles and Judith@Lavender Cottage who hosts Mosaic Monday.




Next up on the blog:  

Monday will bring the wrap up of the Seasonal Celebrations posts from bloggers so you still have time to link up.  

I will be linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Monday.



I am also joining in I Heart Macro with Laura@Shine The Divine that happens every Saturday.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2015.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only. 

109 Replies to “Simply The Best Natives-Nodding Onion”

  1. Oh I instantly recognised the quote from ‘Dandelion Wine’ Donna – one of my all time favourite books which I only came across a couple of years ago. What a pretty and dainty allium. I don’t grow it simply because I think that the squirrels may enjoy it more than me but maybe I should take a chance.

    1. The squirrels leave it alone here as it has an onion scent like other alliums…so they should leave it alone unless they dig up and eat other alliums there. I hope you can give it a try Anna!

  2. I used to grow Allium cernuum when I lived in England but I haven’t tried it here. I find most of the Allium family need more moisture in the soil than you are led to believe. Their pretty heads nodding in the breeze do make a very good addition to the garden.

  3. Hello, what a lovely quote! The Allium is pretty and it is wonderful that is attracts the bees and butterflies. Beautiful flower, vase and arrangement.
    Have a happy day and new week ahead!

  4. My favourite Allium in my garden has to be Allium sphaerocephalon. I believe it to be native here and because it blooms later in the year than some it is blooming when there are more pollinators around. I am chocked full of the cold right now, I wonder how useful those bulbs would be to me right now!
    Nice arrangement with pretty summery colour there Donna

  5. I do not have any allium, but I’m getting “into” natives more and more and I’ve always liked the looks of allium. You may have given me the push! Lovely flowers. Have a “blooming” week! 🙂

  6. Wonderful to learn about the Allium. It is a very pretty flower. Your flowers in the vases always shine. Thanks for sharing Donna and have a great week 🙂

  7. I always enjoy the facts you share when you focus on one of your native plants Donna – fascinating. Your vase doesn’t look at all autumnal – timeless really, and so fresh. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks so much Cathy…that means a lot….there are so many flowers now just in my little cutting garden so the vases just keep coming.

  8. You’ve got me thinking about alliums….I recently bought Tulbaghia Violacea variegata which has a very oniony smell. I had not bought it for this reason, just because I had seen the plant in flower and thought it so beautiful. Now that I am reading up more about it, it may be an ‘allium’ type, what do you think?

  9. such a zingy vase! I love the deep pink Cosmos and how lucky that it is still flowering for you. The Allium information was very interesting too.

  10. Love the happy colors in your vase this week! It is feeling very autumnal out there today, cool and breezy. It was 44 degrees at dawn this a.m. (yikes!) so not long before frost puts an end to my zinnias.
    I fear planting nodding onion as I have my hands full with garlic and regular chives. You are right about clipping the seed heads before they open because boy, are they ever prolific! 🙂

    1. Yikes is right…it will be going into the 40s at night midweek here….fall is here. It will be time to plant garlic here soon.

  11. Alliums are lovely. One of my favourites… Chives. They are easy to grow, edible and have pretty dainty flowers. What’s more the bees absolutely love them. I thoroughly enjoyed your post this week Donna.

  12. You’ve selected a colorful and cheery collection of flowers for your vase this week, Donna. I love the soft pink of the Allium in your “best of” series too. I’ve yet to find an Allium (other than garlic chives, Allium tuberosum) that will grow in my area.

  13. bees feet?
    A bee can tell, via her feet, when another bee has just emptied the nectar from that flower and flies on to a flower where her feet tell her, I’m first.

  14. Nodding Onion is one of the first plants I put in when we moved to the west coast. I love it, but it does self-sow rather a lot. I pulled quite a bit out recently. It is a great plant, though.

  15. Donna, I once started Allium cernuum from seed, but I picked a new garden bed to plant it in, and it was a small bed surrounded by grass that becomes overrun with grasses during the winter so the Allium was too small and disappeared. I should try again. I grow the usual assortment of garlics, my favorite is Elephant garlic for the large bulbs and the decorative flower heads which make nice dried arrangments. This summer I got a couple of Alliums that are rhizomatous and can be used in the garden to repel rodents, I hope they work- Summer Beauty and Sugar Melt, they are gorgeous when blooming and attract pollinators as well. I plan to divide them in the fall and plant them along my bean rows, in hopes of deterring the voles that chew off my pole beans. I’m also going to sprinkle the little bulbs from the tops of some garlic along the row as well, so I should end up with lots of garlic in with the beans, I hope it works. I also grow Allium nectaroscordum bulgaricum, which has come back faithfully every year and increased. I planted some ornamental bulb Alliums long ago but found they all disappeared in a few years, so stick to the edible ones, though I’m trying the new ones to see how they do.

  16. Oh and your arrangement is lovely, such bright colors, I want to grow more sunflowers next year. The Baptisia foliage looks nice with the flowers.

  17. I have not grown the nodding onion allium Donna but have planted the earlier blooming varieties that seed all over. This summer when they were done, I pulled most of the bulbs out of the ground as they were taking over my poor tulips.
    Thanks for linking to Mosaic Monday.

  18. My favourite allium is. Hristophii, named for the great Christopher Lloyd of Great Dixter fame. Your vase today is so lovely, sunflowers and cosmos are definitely the flowers of the moment at my allotment, and the bees love them too.

  19. Natives are where it’s at! I grow several nodding onion and when in bloom they are buzzing with bees. I love their dainty nodding heads of blooms. I’m a little worried that they’re being overrun with creeping jenny but I will monitor. Loving this cooler weather and the garden. Your vase is so colorful – eye popping and I love how the pink zinnia coordinates with the cosmo and the helianthus – the Baptisia foliage is a great touch! I noticed mine this morning – since when did it become so HUGE? The foliage looks beautiful even this time of year and it’s nice you showcased it in a vase.

  20. Fun to learn so much about a given plant. I’m not even sure if my favorite Allium is even still considered an Allium, but it is nectaroscordum siculum, which reliably comes back and even increases. I love A.chirstophii but it tends to disappear after a few years. I just heard that it helps to add sand to the planting hole.

  21. I grow allium, but I’m sorry to say, it’s not a native here in Texas. Your photos are beautiful. Great post! This plant has a wide distribution according to the LBJWC and is native to Texas! Off to look for it here!! Thanks!

  22. I only have Drumstick Alliums so far, but I’m adding a few other species and varieties this fall. I’m hoping they will help me fend off the chipmunks and rabbits. Wish me luck! Lovely vase, Donna.

  23. That is a lovely plant Donna. But we don’t grow onions, or rather onions dont grow with us. Even the table onions we always import the seed, it needs cold to bloom. So we are perennial importers.

  24. I have always admired alliums, especially the large ornamental ones. I’ve never tried to grow them. It is interesting that Chicago was named after thre Native American name for a type of allium. Your vase flowers are beautiful as always, Donna! Such bright vivid colors!

    Autumn is full in the higher elevatons and will appear where I am on the front range in another week or so. Autumn does not last long here. Usually a wind or rain storm comes and all the leaves will be blown away. It happens very suddenly and often in October we get our first snow fall! I hope to get some photos of the golden aspens soon for next week’s post!

  25. Hi, Donna!I didn’t know that this native onion is eatable..I have some of them and always surprise how wonderful their bulbs smell. Your vase is so fresh, lovely cosmos!

  26. I thought I had Allium stellatum but now I think I have Allium cernuum. Mine are nodding and bloom in summer, not fall. Actually, why not have some of each?

  27. Allium Purple Sensation is my favourite, it fills the garden with colour during May and June here in the UK. I like the look of ‘cernuum’ I must look out for some bulbs to plant this autumn.
    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  28. Allium cernuum is new to me too, although I have grown a lot of different alliums over the years and love them all for their cheerful appearance between other plants. There are no alliums in my ne garden so I have just put in an order for 20 giant alliums in mixed colours and varieties – next spring there will be alliums here too 🙂

    Loved your vase, beautiful mix of zingy autumn colours!

  29. Your pictures of the Allium make it very tempting to add them to my bulbs list Donna! Lovely vase with all those rich colours.

  30. That’s a really pretty allium Donna, I love the delicacy of the colour. It might fit in to my front garden really well, I shall have to investigate, my soil might be too free draining for it to be happy.

  31. Lovely arrangement in the vase!
    Pretty photos and interesting information on the Nodding Onion
    Happy Wildflower Wednesday!

  32. what a pretty and useful plant Donna, I always find your native plant posts interesting, you do quite a lot of research into each plant, thanks for sharing, Frances

  33. I love nodding onion. I saw them this year and ordered. They will be coming in spring 2016. But in the meantime, I’ve planted many large and small (not native) allium in my garden this year. I will be able to tell about their beauty next year when they will come in full force. This year being first year planting and no rain (well, hardly any; drought here), they just grew their greens mostly.

    Beautiful flower collection. Saw some new names and going to look up those.

  34. I don’t know of a native allium here, but I grow the ornamental society garlic as well as garlic chives. I do love the look and the hardiness. I’d never heard of your native allium so it’s very interesting to read about it. You were brave to eat the flower when it can be poisonous.

  35. Though it is not native, Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum, is one of my favorite herbs. I learned the hard way not to let the flowers go to seed! But I still love it, for its looks and its flavor in cooking. And I love to catch its oniony fragrance on the wind. Your nodding onion is very pretty!

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