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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, probably in the region of Mongolia, Siberia, or China. The species is not known in the wild, but the nearest wild relative appears to be A. altaicum, which is widespread in parts of Mongolia and Siberia.
The species is very similar in taste and odor to the bulb onion, A. cepa, and hybrids between the two exist. The Welsh onion, however, does not develop bulbs (or only small bulbs, A ampeloprasum), while smaller varieties may resemble chives (Allium schoenoprasum). Many Welsh onion varieties multiply by forming perennial evergreen clumps.
Welsh onion has both culinary and ornamental uses. In the West, it is primarily used as a scallion or salad onion, and is perhaps the species most commonly marketed for this purpose. In East Asia, it is used in diverse dishes including stirfries and soups, and remains more widespread and popular than the bulb onion (Fritsch and Friesen 2002). In Japan, four major groups of cultivars have been developed, based on their adaptation to the coolest, warmest, and intermediate climate ranges there, with the fourth group (yagura negi) used in home gardens (Brewster 2008).
The species has been reported as naturalized in Vermont, Illinois, Alaska, and parts of Canada, but is not categorized as a problem invasive species (USDA PLANTS 2011).