Nodding Pink Onion

Allium cernuum

Description & Overview

Nodding Pink Onion is a hardy, native North American species with a characteristic drooping flower stalk. As a whole, the plant looks beautiful and delicate. The leaves are light green and grass-like. The flower stalk is long and thin with a droop at the end, making it seem like the small umbel of soft pink and white flowers on its end is just. Too. Heavy. Although some insects and animals may munch on the leaves, the strong onion smell (and taste!) persuades most of them to look elsewhere for a meal. Pollinators, especially bees, love this species.


Core Characteristics

Mature Height: 18-24 inches
Mature Spread: 8-12 inches
Growth Rate: Perennial
Growth Form: Clumping
Light Requirements: Full Sun to Partial Shade
Site Requirements: Sandy, Heavy Clay, Well-drained, Moist
Flower: White-pink
Bloom Period: June-August
Foliage: Dark Green
Fall Color: N/A
Fruit Notes: Black capsules that ripen late Summer-Fall

Suggested Uses:

  • Rock Gardens (these plants thrive in well-draining soil. Rocky soils provide great drainage),
  • Border Front (interesting flowers attract attention/sturdy flower stems won’t flop),
  • Cottage Garden (an informal planting where flowers take center stage. A romantic jumble of bulbs, annuals, perennials, flowering shrubs, and climbers),
  • Naturalized Area (the native Nodding Pink Onion, Allium cernuum, will self-seed and spread over large areas),
  • Pollinator Garden (attracts bees, butterflies, and more!)
  • Container Garden (not much room to spread and seed, one single plant will remain small),
  • Cutting garden (unique flowers, fresh or dried, add interest to any bouquet).

Salable #1 Container. Pictures taken late July. Expect different measurements at different times of the year.

Wildlife Value:

Flowers are attractive to bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators. Seeds are attractive to songbirds as a food source. Deer tolerant.

Maintenance Tips:

Bumblebees, Halictid bees, and honey bees seek the nectar from these flowers as do the Hairstreak Butterfly and many species of hummingbird.

The bulbs are eaten by bears and ground squirrels. Elk and deer eat the foliage in early spring though they tend to switch to other vegetation as it becomes an option. Cattle have been known to feed on onion if they happen to find them among other preferred plants, though it does tend to affect the taste of their milk. All in all, ungulates tend to feed on it out of necessity or curiosity, moving on to a better option when they can.

Insects such as the Onion Plant Bug, Onion Thrips, and some beetles, feed on the foliage.

Pests/Problems:

While onions, in general, have no serious issues, there are a few cosmetic (non-lethal) issues that can occur. Bulb rot may occur in soggy or waterlogged sites and is noticed by squeezing the bulbs to feel if they are soft or mushy. Potential insect pests include aphids, vine weevils, slugs, snails, earwigs, spider mites, and thrips. Thrips are tiny insects that suck plant cells from almost any plant. Damage includes streaks, small white patches, or silvery speckling on leaves. All of these insects can be treated with a few treatments of insecticidal soap.

Leaf Lore:

Native from Canada all the way down to Mexico, this perennial gets its name from the onion-like smell. The Genus name Allium come from the Latin word for ‘garlic’, while the specific epithet cernuum means ‘nodding’.

The flower bulbs have an extremely strong flavor and can be eaten raw or cooked. The leaves may also be eaten raw or cooked – they add a delicious, strong onion taste to any salad. Medicinally it’s similar to garlic; the entire plant can be used to treat respiratory issues. Juice made from ornamental onions can be used to treat kidney stones, colds, and sore throats. It can also be used to repel moths, biting insects, and moles.

Companion Plants:

Plant Nodding Pink Onion strategically among other perennials to hide/distract from foliage as it yellows and fades in late summer. Little Bluestem, Anise-Hyssop, Stiff Coreopsis, Milkweed, White Turtlehead, Prairie Smoke, Pale Purple Coneflower, Butterflyweed, and Zig Zag Goldenrod all live in similar soil types and moisture levels and, as a bonus, are also native!




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