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Alliums: stunning sources of nectar

Alliums don’t just steal the show in your garden. Their flowers also benefit insects. Bees and butterflies simply love their many individual flowers brimming with nectar.

Allium: what’s in a name?

‘Allium’ is the botanical name assigned to ornamental onions. And very appropriate it is, too, since it means ‘sharp tasting’. After all, it indicates precisely the taste that onions (and this includes ornamental onions) lend to culinary dishes. Over the centuries, the name ‘Allium’ has had several different meanings. In Victorian times, the name of the flower indicated that it provided happiness and prosperity. The ancient Egyptians saw the onion’s scales as a symbol of immortality and used pictures of them to decorate their graves. The Romans gave the Allium the meaning of ‘onion or leek’.

Allium: its many varieties

From under the ground, an allium emerges to produce a long stem with a spherical cluster of individual flowers. There are actually hundreds of varieties. Some - such as onions, shallots, garlic, ramsons and leeks - are even edible. Yet the largest group of them is intended for brightening up the garden. And these come in a huge number of varieties. While one is absolutely huge, another is small and delicate. Their range of colours is also extensive: every shade of purple, pink and lilac as well as white. Here is a list of the most familiar alliums:

  • A. aflatunense
  • A. ‘Ambassador’
  • A. caeruleum
  • A caesium
  • A. carolinianum
  • A. christophii
  • A. cowanii
  • A. flavum
  • A. giganteum
  • A. ‘Gladiator’
  • A. ‘Globemaster’
  • A. karataviense
  • A. moly
  • A. ‘Mount Everest’
  • A. neapolitanum
  • A. oreophilum
  • A. roseum
  • A. schubertii
  • A. sphaerocephalon
  • A. unifolium
  • A. ursinum

Biodiversity

Butterflies survive on nectar. This is the syrupy liquid that provides them with sugar, proteins and vitamins. A butterfly’s long, rolled-up tongue (called a proboscis) allows it to access this food source. The females in particular need nectar to produce their eggs. Bees also need nectar to stay alive and to make their honey. Allium flowers are thus real treats for bees and butterflies. This is because each of their inflorescences (what we think of as ‘flowers’) is actually made up of many tiny flowers to form a single sphere. It’s these individual flowers that provide the nectar that insects gobble up.

Tips

  • When the flower has faded, don’t remove it yet. Its star-shaped individual flowers will have produced tiny seedpods that provide a lovely silhouette that creates visual interest throughout the autumn and winter.
  • Alliums, just like tulips and daffodils, should be planted in the autumn and will flower from mid-May to the end of June.
  • Their flowers will then look beautiful among perennials. With their stunning structure and shape, they make real eye-catchers in the border.
  • For the most profuse flowering display, make sure to give ornamental onions a sunny place.
  • Alliums will survive the winter. This means you can leave them undisturbed from where they will come up and flower again next year.

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