Wildlife Column: Get to know your distinctive onions

There is a new plant colonising the region – and quickly.

Thursday, 27th May 2021, 6:00 am
Few-flowered leek taken by Prof Ian Rotherham.

It is the few-flowered garlic or few-flowered leek (scientific name Allium paradoxum), native to mountainous regions of Iran, Caucasus, and Turkmenistan. This small bulb of the onion family is a popular garden plant and in the wild is most common in deciduous woodlands, along hedgerows, on roadside verges, and on river banks. This non-native invasive species plant spreads remarkably quickly as the flowerheads produce abundant tiny ‘bulbils’ (secondary bulbs formed in the angle between the stem and a leaf and in place of flowers). These effectively spread the leek across a patch of habitat, and, especially where there are grazing animals like deer or rabbits, to new sites. This species can be confused with three-cornered leek, but that has flowers with distinctive green markings and doesn’t develop the bulbils. In the early 1800s, this leek was brought to Western Europe from its Asian haunts. Introduced to the Berlin Botanic Garden for example, it soon escaped and colonised widely. It is favoured by some wild food foragers and, as long as you like garlic, you can cook the stems and leaves.

Few-flowered leek forms very dense carpets of leaves in spring and can smother and out-compete native species.This can be especially damaging for early flowering woodland plants. Because of this impact the species is listed in ‘Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act’ making it an offence to plant or cause it to grow in the wild. As so often the case, there is very little being done to actually control any spread so expect it in your neighbourhood very soon. It becomes very invasive in disturbed habitats, and is increasingly abundant across much of its range.Recent floras for our area still suggest it is rare and restricted to just a few sites; but that has changed dramatically in the last ten years. A most odd-looking flower, the garlic aroma is a giveaway to identification.

Professor Ian D. Rotherham is contactable on [email protected] ; follow Ian’s blog (https://ianswalkonthewildside.wordpress.com/ ) and Twitter @IanThewildside