Allium canadense

Allium canadense, the Canada onion, Canadian garlic, wild garlic, meadow garlic and wild onion[6] is a perennial plant native to eastern North America[lower-alpha 1] from Texas to Florida to New Brunswick to Montana. The species is also cultivated in other regions as an ornamental and as a garden culinary herb.[7] The plant is also reportedly naturalized in Cuba.[8]

Canada onion
1913 drawing.[1]

Secure  (NatureServe)[2]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Amaryllidaceae
Subfamily: Allioideae
Genus: Allium
A. canadense
Binomial name
Allium canadense
  • Allium acetabulum (Raf.) Shinners
  • Allium canadense var. ovoideum Farw.
  • Allium canadense var. robustum Farw.
  • Allium continuum Small
  • Geboscon acetabulum Raf.
  • Kalabotis canadensis (L.) Raf.


Allium canadense has an edible bulb covered with a dense skin of brown fibers. The plant also has strong onion odor and taste.[9] Crow garlic (Allium vineale) is similar, but it has a strong garlic taste.[10]

The narrow, grass-like leaves originate near the base of the stem, which is topped by a dome-like cluster of star-shaped, pink or white flowers. These flowers may be partially or entirely replaced by bulblets.[10] When present, the flowers are hermaphroditic (both male and female organs) and are pollinated by American bees (not honeybees) and other insects. It typically flowers in the spring and early summer, from May to June.[10][11][12][13][14][15]


The bulblet-producing form is classified as A. canadense var. canadense.[10] It was once thought that the tree onion could be related to this plant,[16] but it is now known that the cultivated tree onion is a hybrid between the common onion (A. cepa) and Welsh onion (A. fistulosum), classified as A. × proliferum.[17]

Five varieties of the species are widely recognized:[5][10]

  • Allium canadense var. canadense - most pedicels replaced by bulbils, rarely producing fruits or seeds; most of the range of the species.
  • Allium canadense var. ecristatum Ownbey tepals deep pink and rather thick; coastal plain of Texas.
  • Allium canadense var. fraseri Ownbey - flowers white; Great Plains from Texas to Kansas.
  • Allium canadense var. hyacinthoides (Bush) Ownbey - tepals pink, thin, flowers fragrant; northern Texas and southern Oklahoma.
  • Allium canadense var. lavandulare (Bates) Ownbey & Aase - flowers lavender, not fragrant; northern Arkansas to South Dakota.
  • Allium canadense var. mobilense (Regel) Ownbey - flowers lilac, pedicels thread-like; southeastern US.


The Canada onion is cultivated as a vegetable in home gardens in Cuba,[lower-alpha 2] scattered locally in the south to western parts of the island. It was formerly collected from the wild to be eaten by Native Americans and by European settlers.[18] People in the Cherokee Nation continue the tradition of picking and cooking wild onions in early spring.[19] Various Native American tribes also used the plant for other purposes: for example, rubbing the plant on the body for protection from insect, lizard, scorpion, and tarantula bites.[20]

The whole plant can be eaten raw, with the tougher outer layers removed.[9] It can also be cooked and included in any recipe calling for onions.[9] The species has an onion odor; if this is lacking, it may be that the poisonous deathcamas has been collected instead of A. canadense.[9] This plant can cause gastroenteritis in young children who ingest parts of this plant. Chronic ingestion of the bulbs reduces iodine uptake by the thyroid gland, which can lead to problems. No specific treatment is suggested other than to prevent dehydration.[21] Livestock have also been poisoned by ingesting wild onions, and some have died.[22] Horses have developed hemolytic anemia from ingesting wild onion leaves.[23][24]


  1. In Canadian French, the plant is known as ail du Canada ("Canadian garlic") and oignons des prairies ("onion of the prairies/meadows").
  2. In Cuban Spanish, known mainly as cebolla silvestre ("wild onion"), with other rare colloquial names.


  1. illustration from Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. Illustrated flora of the northern states and Canada. Vol. 1: 499.
  2. "NatureServe Explorer 2.0". Retrieved May 6, 2022.
  3. Linnaeus, Carl (1753). Species plantarum. Vol. 2. Impensis Laurentii Salvii. p. 1195 via Biodiversity Heritage Library.
  4. "Allium canadense L.". Tropicos. Missouri Botanical Garden.
  5. "Allium canadense L.". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew via The Plant List.
  6. "Allium canadense". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  7. "Izel, Native Plants For Your Garden, Washington DC, Allium canadense". Archived from the original on March 16, 2014. Retrieved March 16, 2014.
  8. "World Checklist of Selected Plant Families: Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew".
  9. Elias, Thomas S.; Dykeman, Peter A. (2009) [1982]. Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods. New York: Sterling. pp. 58, 61. ISBN 978-1-4027-6715-9. OCLC 244766414.
  10. McNeal Jr., Dale W.; Jacobsen, T.D. (2002). "Allium canadense". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). Vol. 26. New York and Oxford. Retrieved February 21, 2011 via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  11. Correll, D. S.; Johnston, M. C. (1970). Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas. Richardson: University of Texas at Dallas.
  12. Great Plains Flora Association, ed. (1986). Flora of the Great Plains. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.
  13. Schwegman, J. E (1991). "The Vascular Flora of Langham Island, Kankakee County, Illinois". Erigenia. 11: 1–8.
  14. Voss, E. G. (1972). "Gymnosperms and Monocots". Michigan Flora. Bloomfield Hills, Michigan: Cranbrook Institute of Science.
  15. Wunderlin, R. P. (1998). Guide to the Vascular Plants of Florida. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.
  16. Food Resource, Oregon State University. "ALLIUM CANADENSE, TREE ONION, WILD ONION". originally from Hedrick, U.P. ed., Sturtevant's Notes on Edible Plants (1919). Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  17. "Allium x proliferum". Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Retrieved February 21, 2011.
  18. Hanelt, Peter (2001). "Alliaceae". In P. Hanelt (ed.). Mansfeld's Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops (except ornamentals). Berlin: Spring-Verlag. p. 2250. ISBN 3-540-41017-1.
  19. "Wild Onions and Scrambled Eggs". Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  20. Moerman, David E. (1998). Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press. p. 57. ISBN 0-88192-453-9.
  21. Lampe and McCann 1985.
  22. Pipal 1918.
  23. Scoggan 1989.
  24. Munro, Derek B. "Allium canadense (wild onion)". Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility: Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System. Government of Canada. Retrieved May 28, 2011.

Further reading

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