Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

This plant is easy to identify because of the nodding habit of its umbels of flowers. Nodding umbels of flowers are an evolutionary adaptation that tends to restrict insect visitors to bees. Other insects are more reluctant to hang upside down while attempting to feed on nectar or pollen. The nodding habit may also protect the nectar from rain. Compared to 2 other species that are native, the Cliff Onion (Allium stellatum) and Wild Garlic (Allium canadense), Nodding Onion (Allium cernuum) has wider leaves. Compared to the non-native Field Garlic (Allium vineale), Chives (Allium schoenoprasum), and Cultivated Onion (Allium cepa), the leaves of Nodding Onion are flattened and solid throughout, rather than hollow. Return
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Description

This perennial plant consists of a tuft of basal leaves from which one or more flowering stalks emerge. The basal leaves are erect, ascending, or arching; they are up to 12" long and up to 8 mm. across. The basal leaves are linear in shape, medium green, glabrous, and smooth along their margins; they are solid and flattened. Leaf venation is parallel. Each leaf is slightly keeled along its midvein. The flowering stalks are up to 1½' long and more or less erect; they are light green or light reddish purple, glabrous, and terete. Each stalk terminates in a nodding umbel of flowers that emerges from a pair of sack-like membranes; these membranes are deciduous. Each umbel spans about 1½–2" across, consisting of 40-60 pedicellate flowers. The flowers are individually about ¼" (6 mm.) across, consisting of 6 spreading tepals, 6 exserted stamens, and an ovary with a style. The tepals are white, light lavender, or pink; they are lanceolate in shape. The stamens have white filaments and yellow anthers. The pedicels are ½–1" long; they are light green or light reddish purple, glabrous, and more or less terete. The blooming season usually occurs during mid-summer, lasting 3-4 weeks. There is no noticeable floral scent. Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by seed capsules; each capsule contains several small black seeds that it splits open to release. The root system consists of a bulb that is longer than it is wide. Both the bulb and foliage of this plant have a typical onion-like scent. Clonal offsets are produced, forming new bulbs underground. Cultivation
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Distribution

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Nodding Onion is an uncommon plant that occurs only in NE Illinois (see Distribution Map), where it is native. Habitats include black soil prairies, sandy pannes, and thinly wooded bluffs. Much of the prairie habitat where this plant once occurred has been destroyed by development. Nodding Onion is normally found in high-quality natural areas, although it could escape from cultivation into more disturbed areas. Faunal Associations
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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Global Range: Endemic to West Virginia, although it might also occur in adjacent Virginia. It has been reported falsely from Virginia thus far, but it is likely to exist (T. Wieboldt, pers. comm., 1995).

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Unknown/Undetermined

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Unknown/Undetermined

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Unknown/Undetermined

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Unknown/Undetermined

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

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Global Range: This onion ranges from New York to Michigan, Minnesota, and British Columbia; south to Virginia, Kentucky, and Missouri; in the mountains to Georgia, Alabama, and Arizona.

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Unknown/Undetermined

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Global Range: Western North Carolina, western Virginia, and eastern West Virginia, possibly more widespread (Weakely 2000).

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Alta., B.C., Ont., Sask.; Ala., Ariz., Ark., Colo., D.C., Ga., Idaho, Ill., Ind., Iowa, Ky., Md., Mich., Minn., Mo., Mont., Nebr., N.Mex., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Oreg., Pa., S.C., S.Dak., Tenn., Tex., Utah, Va., Wash., W.Va., Wis., Wyo.; Mexico.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Bulbs 2–5+, clustered, often short-rhizomatous at base, rhizome not stout or iris-like, oblong, elongate, 1–3 × 0.8–1.5 cm; outer coats enclosing 1 or more bulbs, grayish or brownish, membranous, minutely striate, cells in regular vertical rows, narrowly elongate, fibers persistent, parallel, few; inner coats white to pink or reddish, cells in regular vertical rows, narrowly elongate. Leaves persistent, green at anthesis, 3–5, basally sheathing, sheaths not extending much above soil level; blade solid, flat, channeled to broadly V-shaped in cross section, 10–25 cm × 1–6 mm, margins entire or denticulate. Scape persistent, sometimes 2 or more produced successively from single bulb, usually clustered, nodding, solid, terete or ridged, particularly distally, sometimes flattened and narrowly winged, abruptly recurved near apex, 10–50 cm × 1–3 mm. Umbel persistent, cernuous, loose, 8–35-flowered, hemispheric, bulbils unknown; spathe bracts persistent, 2, 3-veined, lanceolate, ± equal, apex acuminate, beakless. Flowers campanulate, 4–6 mm; tepals ± erect, pink or white, elliptic-ovate, ± equal, withering in fruit, margins ± entire, apex ± obtuse, at least outer tepals strongly incurved, midribs not thickened; stamens exserted; anthers yellow; pollen yellow; ovary conspicuously crested; processes 6, flattened, ± triangular, margins entire or toothed; style exserted, linear, ± equaling stamens; stigma capitate, scarcely thickened, unlobed; pedicel 6–25 mm, becoming stouter in fruit, elongating and bending abruptly upward from near point of attachment. Seed coat dull or shining; cells smooth, minutely roughened, or each with minute, central papilla. 2n = 14.
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Diagnostic Description

Flowers white; pedicels 2-4 cm long; perianth segments are obtuse (Strausbaugh & Core, 1978).

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Synonym

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Type Information

Possible syntype for Allium neomexicanum Rydb.
Catalog Number: US 563680
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): E. O. Wooton
Year Collected: 1894
Locality: Organ Mountains, Dona Ana, New Mexico, United States, North America
  • Possible syntype: Rydberg, P. A. 1899. Bull. Torrey Bot. Club. 26: 541.
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Holotype for Allium oxyphilum Wherry
Catalog Number: US 1241244
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): W. Wherry
Year Collected: 1924
Locality: Lillydale., Monroe, West Virginia, United States, North America
  • Holotype: Wherry, E. T. 1925. J. Wash. Acad. Sci. 15: 370.
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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

Nodding Onion is an uncommon plant that occurs only in NE Illinois (see Distribution Map), where it is native. Habitats include black soil prairies, sandy pannes, and thinly wooded bluffs. Much of the prairie habitat where this plant once occurred has been destroyed by development. Nodding Onion is normally found in high-quality natural areas, although it could escape from cultivation into more disturbed areas. Faunal Associations
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Comments: Occurs on acid soils (Strausbaugh & Core, 1978). Most occurrences in West Virginia are on shale barrens, but this species has been noted on sandstone outcroppings as well.

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Widely distributed on moist soils in mountainous and cool regions; 600--3500m.
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Associations

Flower-Visiting Insects of Nodding Onion in Illinois

Allium cernuum (Nodding Onion)
(Halictid bees suck nectar or collect pollen, while other insects suck nectar; all observations are from Graenicher)

Bees (long-tongued)
Apidae (Apinae): Apis mellifera sn; Apidae (Bombini): Bombus pensylvanica sn, Bombus ternarius sn; Anthophoridae (Anthophorini): Anthophora terminalis sn, Anthophora walshii sn; Anthophoridae (Xylocopini): Xylocopa virginica sn; Megachilidae (Megachilini): Megachile centuncularis sn

Bees (short-tongued)
Halictidae (Halictinae): Lasioglossum albipennis cp, Lasioglossum forbesii sn cp, Lasioglossum imitatus cp, Lasioglossum zephyrus cp; Colletidae (Colletinae): Colletes eulophi sn

Flies
Syrphidae: Tropidia quadrata sn

Butterflies
Pieridae: Pieris rapae sn

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 6 - 20

Comments: There are eighteen extant occurrences of this element.

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General Ecology

In West Virginia, Allium oxyphilum occurs at 18 sites. The largest population consists of 18,000 plants occurring in several subpopulations. The shale barren is on a south-facing slope with areas of open xeric hardwoods with a grass-sedge understory, shale and sandstone ledges, and xeric grass balds. It is often found on bare shale at this site, and it is most common in the more open areas. At other sites, it has been found in acidic and calcareous soils and atop boulders. Most populations in West Virginia contain 100-400 plants. Although populations are medium-sized and need revisited, the species appears stable in the state.

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Life History and Behavior

Cyclicity

Flowering/Fruiting

Flowering Jul--Oct.
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Reproduction

Sexual reproduction. Bumblebees have been noted pollinating this species (R. Bartgis, pers. comm., 1985).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Allium cernuum

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Allium cernuum

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G2 - Imperiled

Reasons: This species is a regional endemic, but has taxonomic questions. It is found chiefly on shale barrens, and most populations have fewer than 500 plants.

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N2 - Imperiled

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: TNR - Not Yet Ranked

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: T5 - Secure

Reasons: Widespread on open slopes and meadows in western New Mexico, into southeastern Arizona and Mexico.

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: T5 - Secure

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

Canada

Rounded National Status Rank: NNR - Unranked

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G3 - Vulnerable

Reasons: Occurs in western North Carolina, western Virginia, eastern West Virginia, and possibly elsewhere, in thin soils around mafic or calcareous rock outcrops (Weakely 2000). Uncommon in its known range (Weakley 2000).

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Global Short Term Trend: Relatively stable (=10% change)

Comments: All occurrences are extant with average to good populations. Populations at one site have fluctuated and may be decreasing.

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Threats

Comments: The habitat of A. oxyphilum is generally unsuitable for development. It may be subject to grazing and trampling, as well as habitat destruction from powerline and road construction. Invasive plant species may also be a threat. Somewhat threatened by forest management practices and lack of disturbance resulting in succession (Southern Appalachian Species Viability Project 2002).

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Comments: Somewhat threatened by land-use conversion (quarrying) and habitat fragmentation (Southern Appalachian Species Viability Project 2002).

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Management

Restoration Potential: Once the habitat has been degraded by major alterations, such as bulldozing, it would be difficult to restore it. Sites that have been trampled or grazed could be fenced or posted. Allium oxyphilum grows in harsh environments and can probably tolerate some disturbance. One site was created by road construction.

Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: Preserve design should include entire suitable habitat, as well as a buffer area. As succession takes place, the shale barrens will likely need management to keep woody vegetation to a minimum.

Management Requirements: In order to manage for Allium oxyphilum, shale barrens should be managed as a whole habitat. This would include minimizing foot travel, discontinue any grazing, and cutting back woody vegetation.

Monitoring Programs: Allium oxyphilum is not being monitored specifically by The Nature Conservancy although they have been monitoring and surveying shale barrens throughout Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.

Management Research Programs: There are no known management research programs.

Biological Research Needs: The most crucial research needed for Allium oxyphilum is to determine if it is a valid taxon or a variety or form of Allium cernuum.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Uses

Comments: No known economic uses, although the species is probably edible, and could be used in cooking.

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Risks

Stewardship Overview: Management for Allium oxyphilum should not be species-specific, but should encompass the habitat. This species occurs mostly on shale barren habitat, which is a rare community and harbors many shale barren endemics. Management would involve limiting succession by cutting back woody vegetation, minimizing foot travel, and discontinuing any grazing on shale barren habitat. Prevent entry of invasive, exotic species.

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Wikipedia

Allium cernuum

Allium cernuum, known as nodding onion and lady's leek, is a perennial plant in the genus Allium.

It has an unsheathed slender conic bulb which gradually tapers directly into several keeled grass-like leaves (2–4 mm wide). Each mature bulb bears a single flowering stem, which terminates in a downward nodding umbel of white or rose flowers. Nodding onion blooms in July or August. The flowers mature into spherical crested fruits which later split open to reveal the dark shiny seeds. This plant does not have bulblets in the inflorescence. This plant grows in dry woods, rock outcroppings, and prairies. It is native to North America from New York to British Columbia south to Virginia and Kentucky and south in the mountains. The bulb is edible and has a strong onion flavor.

This species is cultivated for its attractive flowers. Allium cernuum form major has larger plants and larger flowers than the normal species.

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Notes

Comments

Allium cernuum is the most widespread North American species of the genus. It is closely related to A. stellatum, and the character commonly used to differentiate them has been umbel orientation. In both species, the inflorescence is nodding in bud, but in A. stellatum it usually becomes erect by anthesis. In A. cernuum the peduncle remains permanently recurved near the apex, although the inflorescence may sometimes become erect overall, or nearly so. While this character is helpful in identification, an almost exclusive reliance on it (even by one of the present authors in his youth) has obscured other clearer distinctions between the species and has confused their geographic ranges. More reliable characters for differentiating these species are bulb shape (elongate in A. cernuum, ovoid in A. stellatum) and perianth shape (campanulate in A. cernuum, stellate in A. stellatum). Unfortunately, perianth shape is often difficult to see in herbarium specimens.
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Names and Taxonomy

Taxonomy

Comments: Maintained as a distinct species by Kartesz (1994 and 1999). Kartesz notes (pers. comm. to Larry Morse, Nov. 1999) that he is not aware of any recently published work questioning this species' distinctiveness. However, Barbara Sargent and Dean Walton, West Virginia Heritage Program, noted in 1995 that A. oxyphilum, if studied further, might prove to be a variety or form of the widespread species Allium cernuum. Larry Morse, 10Dec99.

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Comments: Recognized as distinct from Allium cernuum by Kartesz in his 1999 Floristic Synthesis.

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