They are perennial bulbous plants. They occur in temperate climates of the northern hemisphere, except for a few species occurring in Chile (as Allium juncifolium), Brazil (Allium sellovianum) or tropical Africa (Allium spathaceum). They can vary in height between 5 cm and 150 cm. The flowers form an umbel at the top of a leafless stalk. The bulbs vary in size between species, from very small (around 2-3 mm in diameter) to rather big (8-10 cm). Some species (such as chives, A. schoenoprasum) develop thickened leaf-bases rather than forming bulbs as such.
Most bulbous alliums increase by forming little bulbs or "offsets" around the old one, as well as by seed. Several species can form many bulbils (tiny bulbs) in the flowerhead; in the so-called "tree onion" (A. cepa Proliferum Group) the bulbils are few, but large enough to be used for pickling.
Members of the genus include many valued vegetables such as onions, shallots, leeks and herbs such as garlic and
Some Allium species, including A. cristophii and A. giganteum, are used as border plants for their "architectural" qualities. Several hybrids have been bred, or selected, with rich purple flowers. Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' is one of the most popular and has been given an Award of Garden Merit (H4). By contrast, other species can become troublesome garden weeds.
Various Allium species are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera including Cabbage Moth, Common Swift (recorded on garlic), Garden Dart, Large Yellow Underwing, The Nutmeg, Setaceous Hebrew Character and Turnip Moth.
Other useful herb information: Black Walnut | Fo-Ti | Bloodroot | Celandine | Equisetum | Kelp | Muira Puama
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