Wild Garlic is a native erect perennial with a round, smooth, flowering stem (a scape) growing to 24 inches high.
Leaves can be 6 to 15 inches long; they curve upward and outward, supported by a keel on the blade. Blade edges are smooth. The leaves are flat but for the keel, solid and grass-like, usually 3 to 6 in number. They rise from the lower half of the stem and have bases with sheathing clasping the stem, giving the appearance of a basal rosette.
The inflorescence at the top of the flowering scape (a flowering stem that arises directly from the root), which is solitary, begins with a white sack-like cover (as found in kitchen garlic) that splits open to show a rounded cluster (an umbel) of flowers or stalkless bulbils, and frequently both.
Flowers are fragrant, 6-parted on long stalks. Sepals and petals combine to form tepals that range in color from white to pink. With the six tepals spreading at their pointed tips, the appearance when open, is of a star shape, about 1/2 inch across. There are 6 upright stamens and a short 3-lobed style leading to a 3-locular ovary. Bulbils number 6 to 10, are egg shaped, stalkless, about 1/4 inch long, colored the same as the flowers, except that in sunny locations they are likely to be reddish and sunny locations are also most likely to produce flowers. Beneath the inflorescence are 2 or, usually, 3 lanceolate (broadest below the middle) shaped bracts.
Seeds: When flowers have developed, they may produce a 3-lobed seed capsule but this is infrequent.
Varieties: There are six recognized varieties of A. canadense in North America. In Minnesota only var. canadense is found. In this variety bulbils replace most of the flowers in the inflorescence and capsules and seeds are rarely produced. In all the other five varieties bulbils are almost unknown and instead the plants produce capsules and seeds. These varieties are all located south of Minnesota. They are var. fraseri; var. mobilense; var. ecristatum; var. hyacinthoides; and var. lavendulare. Flora of North America (Ref. #W7) has a good key.
Habitat: Wild Garlic grows from a bulb that has a fibrous coating and a fibrous root system. It requires full to partial sun, moist to mesic conditions, in most kinds of soils that are not dense. The underground bulb can be a cluster of several that have formed by offset. Propagation of the plant can occur from these offsets or from the bulbils of the inflorescence, rarely from seed. Both the bulb and the leaves have an onion odor and the bulbils have a garlic odor and taste. Both are edible.
Names: The genus, Allium, is Latin for garlic, very appropriate in this species; the species, canadense refers to Canada. The author name for the plant classification - 'L.' refers to Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), Swedish botanist and the developer of the binomial nomenclature of modern taxonomy. The assigned family class is in flux currently. A number of authorities moved the old world species of Allium from the Lily (Liliaceae) family and placed them in the Alliaceae. Most botanists accept that but the move of the new world species into the Alliaceae has been resisted by some pending molecular studies. Minnesota authorities at the U of M Herbarium have accepted the move.
Comparisons: Wild Garlic is distinguished from Wild Onion, A. stellatum, and Nodding Onion, A. cernuum, by the bulbils produced in the inflorescence and by the net-like covering of the underground bulb.
Above: 1st photo - As the flower stem develops, a whitish sac covers the developing bulbils, which then splits (2nd photo). Bulbils may be accompanied by flowers also but not always. 3rd photo - The leaves attach on the lower part of the stem with a clasping sheath.
Below: Flowers have six upright stamens with the green pistil in the center. Sepals and petals combine to form tepals that range in color from white to pink
Below: 1st photo - Developing bulbils. 2nd photo - Mature bulbils.
Below: The root of Wild Garlic. Note the brown covering on the bulb.
Below: An example with both the sessile bulbils and stalked flowers.
Notes: Wild Garlic is not indigenous to the Garden. Curator Martha Crone reported planting it in 1938 and 1947. In North America it is found from the central plains eastward, including Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick in Canada. Within Minnesota it is almost exclusively found the southern half of the state.
Wild Garlic is one of is one of six Allium species known to Minnesota plus one which is considered a garden hybrid. The six natives are: A. canadense, Wild Garlic; A. cernuum, Nodding Wild Onion; A. schoenoprasum, Wild Chives; A. stellatum, Prairie Onion; A. textile, White Wild Onion; and A. tricoccum, Wild Leek: Four of the species are found in the Garden - A. canadense and the three with links to information sheets.
Lore and uses: The leaves and bulb of Wild Garlic are considered edible. Fernald (Ref.#6) reports that the bulbs are sweet and that the bulblets are superior for pickling. He also wrote that Marquette and his exploring party of 1674 were said to have subsisted on Wild Garlic and Wild Leek while on their journey from Green Bay to present day Chicago.
References: Plant characteristics are generally from sources 1A, 32, W2, W3, W7 & W8 plus others as specifically applied. Distribution principally from W1, W2 and 28C. Planting history generally from 1, 4 & 4a. Other sources by specific reference. See Reference List for details.
Identification booklet for most of the flowering forbs and small flowering shrubs of the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden. Details Here.
Friends of the Wild Flower Garden, Inc. Text and photos are by G. D. Bebeau unless otherwise credited. "www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org"