Walking Onion

Some people follow celebrities online, reading everything they can about them online. I have crossed paths with plenty of famous people without noticing, but I follow rare plants online with a similar zeal. I had been reading up on Walking Onions for years, and was thrilled when a fellow gardener brought some to share at the Seed Exchange at the Indigenous Farming Conference in February 2018.

While this plant is not a North American native, it is a really cool allium nonetheless, and grows well in our region, so I think it’s worth knowing about.

Different names I’ve In Latin, it’s known as Allium cepa var. proliferum. Some websites call it a Tree Onion. Also known as Egyptian Walking Onion, these bunching onions are top-setting: a flower forms at the top of a stalk, then develops into a cluster of baby onion starts. When it is heavy enough, the stem supporting the flower cluster will start bending toward the ground. It will “walk” to a suitable spot, where it will set down roots and start a new cluster of onions. A healthy plant can do this about twice a season in North Dakota. 

These can be invasive, so I’d only recommend planting it in an enclosed area where it can’t escape. But if you like onions or onion greens, planting a couple of these will ensure you an endless supply. They also could have been named Infinity Onions.

I’m not sure why people call them Egyptian Walking Onions, because from everything I’ve learned about them, they did not originate in Egypt. They are hardy perennials that do well in northern climates, and will come back even after a long, cold winter. I’ve also seen them thrive in sidewalk gardens in San Francisco, which has a Mediterranean climate.

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