FACT-FILE


Egyptian Onions  (Allium proliferum)

(Also referred to sometimes as "Walking Onions", "Tree Onions", "Egyptian Tree Onions", "Top Onions", "Winter Onions", or "Perennial Onions" amongst other names)

 

A genuine member of the  onion (Allium) family, it is believed that they are a hybrid cross between the common "bulbing" onion and the Welsh onion. They have characteristics of both.

 

Garlic is also from this family and the Egyptian onion also shows a remarkable resemblance to hard necked garlic - the ones that develop scapes.

 

As their scientific name "Allium proliferum" states, these hardy little onions are very "prolific." After planting them in your garden or allotment you will have onions every year for years to come!

 

Egyptian onions are very hardy, and can be planted in the autumn.

 

They are called "walking" onions because of the unique way the bulbs clusters bend down from the weight of the bulbs as they grow, eventually touching the ground, and taking root. As the picture on the right shows you can see them "walking" from the mother plant by bending down under the weight of the bulbils (or bulblets) at the top of the stalks.

 

You can divide these clusters and plant as you would other onion sets in the autumn. They do have a rather strong taste, so you won't need many! You can also use the green stalks, which are edible, much like spring (bunching)  onions or chives. If you allow the new bulbs to fall over and root, these will sprout for you to use. They are best before the bulbs start to form on the new stalk because they do become tough at that point. There will be enough to use for the stalks, the bulbs and some for planting.

 

In the early spring you'll be able to dig some of the onions up to use as bunching or green onions.

 

Plant the small bulbs in soil that is well dug and amended with organic matter such as peat and compost. As mentioned, they are very hardy so should do well even in very cold climates.

 

The phenomenon of forming bulblets instead of flowers is also seen in garlic and other various species of Allium, which sometimes may also be referred to as top onions or tree onions. The bulblets are generally marble-sized, usually within 0.5 cm to 3 cm in diameter, although sizes may differ out of this range from time to time.

 

Many Egyptian onions are very strong flavoured, although some cultivars are relatively mild and sweet. The underground bulbs are particularly tough-skinned and pungent, and can be quite elongate, like giant scallions or leeks, or in some types may form bulbs up to 5 cm (two inches) across. Young plants may be used as scallions in the spring, and the bulblets may be used in cooking similarly to regular onions, or preserved by pickling.


 

Welsh onion (Allium fistulosum). is also sometimes referred to as, Japanese bunching onion, it is a perennial onion. Other names that may be applied to this plant include green onion, spring onion, scallion, escallion, and salad onion. These names are ambiguous, as they may also be used to refer to any young green onion stalk, whether grown from Welsh onions or not - or even Egyptian onions. Many of these references are very confusing and inaccurate.

Historically, the Welsh onion was known as the cibol. The name "Welsh onion" has become a misnomer in modern English, as Allium fistulosum is not indigenous to Wales. "Welsh" preserves the original meaning of the Old English word "welisc", or Old German "welsche", meaning "foreign" (compare wal- in "walnut", of the same etymological origin). The species originated in Asia, possibly Siberia or China. In Wales, the spring onion has a dialectal variation, jibbons or sibwns (pronounced 'shiboons') which originates from the French 'ciboule.'

  Hard-neck Garlic  (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon)

If you plant hard-neck garlic, sometime in June it will shoot up a flower stalk that is called a scape. They grow up and curl around. It is recommended that you cut these little guys off because if you do not, you are likely to get smaller garlic bulbs. You can eat them – they are highly saught after by chefs, or dry them. If you decide to leave them on, you can harvest the top-set bulbils to plant in the autumn. These will produce a garlic “grass” the following summer that is really nice in salads, or it will produce a full sized garlic bulb in two years.

Hard-neck garlic varieties are generally hardier than soft-neck varieties. They are the best option for northern gardeners. They are also the best option if you want to enjoy garlic scapes in early summer. 

Within the Hard-neck family, there are nine sub-types of garlics: Purple Stripe, Marbled Purple Stripe, Asiatic, Glazed Purple Stripe, Creole, Middle Eastern, Turban, Rocambole, and Porcelain.

 ©Gwilym ab Ioan 2012