The Nodding Onion (Allium Cernuum) is something to behold with its light pink floral bouquet that hangs down off its stem. The Nodding Onion has soft, grass like leaves and a 1-2-feet, leafless flowering stem that grows from a bulb. The stem bends from the weight of a bouquet of tiny pink or purple flowers, that form in a cluster at the top. As the stem bends, the Nodding Onion takes the shape of a shepherd’s crook or a desk lamp, with the tiny cluster of flowers reaching towards the ground. The perennial does not give off a floral scent rather, true to its name, it gives off a mild, oniony aroma.
Nodding Onion is a pollinator’s delight. It attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and is regarded in having special value for native bees. Not only does this plant attract pollinators, but it is also beneficial for wildlife. The bulbs are utilized by bears and ground squirrels, while elk and deer graze the early spring herbage. It is edible and is known to have medicinal benefits similar to garlic.
The Nodding Onion is quite adaptable, being one of its most remarkable features. It can grow in almost any situation, from full sun to deep shade. It is quite common throughout BC and can be found on dry rocky bluffs, grassy slopes, meadows, open forests, and steppe to subalpine zones.
For the most efficient growth, it is best to plant in the fall; the seed will remain dormant until early spring and will bloom in July/August. To start indoors, keep the seed in the refrigerator for 60 days then plant 2-3 seeds each in individual pots. Keep the soil lightly moist and the temperature around 15 degrees Celsius until germination. Germination may be slow, but you must keep the young seedlings moist until they become established. This plant adapts well to almost any soil and can survive in shade, clay, or rocky soil. Mature plants tolerate drought very well and do not often need watering.
If you are interested in spreading more Nodding Onion around your yard, you can propagate the seeds. The best time for seed collection is in September. To extract the seeds, it is best to shake the dried seed heads into a collecting bag. You should store the seeds in a cool, dry area. They can be stored at 3-5 degrees Celsius for up to 6 months. The seeds can be cold stratified and then germinated at 10 degrees Celsius. Germination is equal in light and dark. The best method of treatment is to sow fresh seeds outdoors in containers or flats soon after collection and allow dormancy to be broken naturally.