Nodding onion
Allium cernuum 1.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Asparagales
Family: Amaryllidaceae
Subfamily: Allioideae
Genus: Allium
A. cernuum
Binomial name
Allium cernuum
  • Allium alatum Schreb. ex Roth
  • Allium allegheniense Small
  • Allium cernuum f. alba J.K.Henry
  • Allium cernuum subsp. neomexicanum (Rydb.) Traub & Ownbey
  • Allium cernuum var. neomexicanum (Rydb.) J.F.Macbr.
  • Allium cernuum f. obtusum Cockerell
  • Allium cernuum var. obtusum (Cockerell) Cockerell
  • Allium cernuum subsp. obtusum (Cockerell) Traub & Ownbey
  • Allium cernuum var. obtusum Cockerell ex J.F. Macbr.
  • Allium neomexicanum Rydb.
  • Allium nutans Schult. & Schult.f.
  • Allium oxyphilum Wherry
  • Allium recurvatum Rydb.
  • Allium tricorne Poir.
  • Calliprena cernua (Roth) Salisb.
  • Cepa cernua (Roth) Moench
  • Gynodon cernuum (Roth) Raf.
  • Gynodon elliotii Raf.
  • Gynodon rupestre Raf.

Allium cernuum, known as nodding onion or lady's leek,[3] is a perennial plant in the genus Allium. It grows in open areas in North America.


Allium cernuum is a herbaceous perennial growing from an unsheathed elongated conical bulb which gradually tapers directly into several keeled (thin and flat) grass-like leaves, 2–4 millimetres (332532 inch) in width. Each mature bulb bears a single flowering stem, which terminates in a downward nodding umbel of white or rose, campanulate (bell-shaped) flowers that bloom in July and August. The flowers are arranged into downward facing umbels and each flower is about 5 mm (316 in) across, pink or white with yellow pollen and yellow anthers. A. cernuum does not have bulblets in the inflorescence.[4] The flowers mature into spherical crested fruits which later split open to reveal the dark shiny seeds.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11]

Similar species

In addition to other species of Allium, wild garlic, field garlic, and wild leek look similar.[12] Any onion-like plant which lacks the expected odor should be suspect of being a similar-looking poisonous species, namely deathcamas.[12]

Distribution and habitat

The species has been reported from much of the United States, Canada and Mexico including in the Appalachian Mountains from Alabama to New York State, the Great Lakes Region, the Ohio and Tennessee River Valleys, the Ozarks of Arkansas and Missouri, and the Rocky and Cascade Mountains of the West, from Mexico to Washington. It has not been reported from California, Nevada, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Delaware, New England, or much of the Great Plains. In Canada, it grows from Ontario to British Columbia.[5][13][14][15][16]

Despite its wide geographical distribution, it is absent from much of its range. In the southern part of its range in North America it is limited to mountainous habitats, and in other parts of its North American range it is limited to local and disjunct population. It is absent from North Dakota and most of the Great Plains states and intermountain region of the U.S.[4] In Minnesota it is listed as a threatened species.[17]

It can be found growing in deciduous woodlands, to open grasslands.[4]


Although it is important to distinguish from poisonous deathcamas,[12] the plant is edible and has a strong onion flavor, often used in cooking.[18]

It is grown in gardens for its distinctive nodding flowers that are white, pink, or maroon; it is winter hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3–9.[3]


  1. ^ "Allium cernuum". Tropicos. Missouri Botanical Garden.
  2. ^ "Allium cernuum". World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (WCSP). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew – via The Plant List.
  3. ^ a b Geoffrey Burnie (1999). Botanica: The Illustrated A-Z of Over 10,000 Garden Plants. Welcome Rain. p. 75. ISBN 0760716420.
  4. ^ a b c Barbara Coffin; Lee Pfannmuller (1988). Minnesota's Endangered Flora and Fauna. U of Minnesota Press. p. 47. ISBN 978-0-8166-1689-3.
  5. ^ a b McNeal Jr., Dale W.; Jacobsen, T. D. (2002). "Allium cernuum". In Flora of North America Editorial Committee (ed.). Flora of North America North of Mexico (FNA). Vol. 26. New York and Oxford – via, Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.
  6. ^ Hilty, John (2016). "Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum)". Illinois Wildflowers.
  7. ^ Gleason, H. A.; Cronquist, A.J. (1991). Manual of the Vascular Plants of Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada (2 ed.). Bronx: New York Botanical Garden. pp. i–910.
  8. ^ Cronquist, A.J.; Holmgren, A. H.; Holmgren, N. H.; Reveal, J. L. (1977). "Vascular Plants of the Intermountain West, U.S.A.". In Cronquist, A.J.; Holmgren, A. H.; Holmgren, N. H.; Reveal, J. L.; Holmgren, P. K. (eds.). Intermountain Flora. Vol. 6. New York: Hafner Pub. Co. pp. 1–584.
  9. ^ Hitchcock, C. H.; Cronquist, A.J.; Ownbey, F. M.; Thompson, J. W. (1969). "Vascular Cryptogams, Gymnosperms, and Monocotyledons". In Hitchcock, C. L. (ed.). Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest. Vol. 1. Seattle: University of Washington Press. pp. 1–914.
  10. ^ Radford, A. E.; Ahles, H. E.; Bell, C. R. (1968). Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. i–lxi, 1–1183.
  11. ^ Moss, E. H. (1983). Flora of Alberta (2 ed.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press. pp. i–xii, 1–687.
  12. ^ a b c Elias, Thomas S.; Dykeman, Peter A. (2009) [1982]. Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide to Over 200 Natural Foods. New York: Sterling. p. 58. ISBN 978-1-4027-6715-9. OCLC 244766414.
  13. ^ "Allium cernuum". County-level distribution map from the North American Plant Atlas (NAPA). Biota of North America Program (BONAP). 2014.
  14. ^ USDA, NRCS (n.d.). "Allium cernuum". The PLANTS Database ( Greensboro, North Carolina: National Plant Data Team.
  15. ^ Brako, L.; Rossman, A.Y.; Farr, D.F. (1995). Scientific and Common Names of 7,000 Vascular Plants in the United States. pp. 1–294.
  16. ^ CONABIO. 2009. Catálogo taxonómico de especies de México. 1. In Capital Nat. México. CONABIO, Mexico City.
  17. ^ "Endangered, Threatened, and Special Concern. Species ID Guide" (PDF). Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.
  18. ^ Bailey, L.H.; Bailey, E.Z. (1976). Hortus Third. New York: MacMillan. pp. i–xiv, 1–1290.