Allium stellatum (Prairie Onion)

Plant Info
Also known as: Autumn Onion, Pink Wild Onion, Prairie Wild Onion
Family:Alliaceae (Onion)
Life cycle:perennial
Habitat:sun; dry fields, prairies, rocky areas
Bloom season:July - August
Plant height:8 to 18 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:none
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

Pick an image for a larger view. See the glossary for icon descriptions.

Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 6-petals Cluster type: round

[photo of flowers] 1½ to 2-inch round cluster of ¼-inch flowers, pale pink to deep pinkish purple, sometimes white, with a spot of yellow in the center and long yellow-tipped stamens. Individual flowers have 6 spreading tepals (3 petals and 3 sepals that look similar). At the base of the cluster are 2 or 3 papery bracts that persist through flowering. A plant has a single cluster at the end of a long naked stem. The cluster is sometimes initially nodding but the stem becomes erect as flowers develop.

Leaves and stem: Leaf attachment: basal Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] A few narrow grass-like blades, up to as long as the plant is tall, sheath the flowering stem near the soil line, appearing basal. Leaves and stems are hairless and have an onion smell to them. The underground bulbs are round to oval.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a chambered capsule about 1/8 inch across, each chamber containing a single black seed.


Prairie Onion is similar to the rare Nodding Wild Onion (Allium cernuum), which, as the name suggests, has flower clusters that hang down where Prairie Onion's are erect. While the bent flowering stalk of A. cernuum may be a key difference the distinction is not always so clear, as flowers of both species may initially nod. Other notable differences are: the tepals of A. stellatum flowers are more spreading than A. cernuum (but this can be subtle), the bracts at the base of the A. stellatum cluster persist through flowering, where they usually wither away in A. cernuum, and the underground bulbs of A. stellatum are ovoid and A. cernuum are elongated. Also, while A. stellatum may be found throughout much of Minnesota, A. cernuum is restricted to a few southeast counties, primarily on wooded, north facing slopes above creeks and rivers; A. stellatum habitat is drier and more open, sandy or rocky prairie.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken at Long Lake Regional Park, Ramsey County. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Ordway Prairie, Pope County, in Anoka County, and a private garden in Ramsey County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Gregour - Burnsville
on: 2009-07-22 09:44:22

Its botanical name, Allium stellatum, has words whose roots refer to onions, and stars, which seems like an odd coupling, but the flower is indeed very lovely! I saw a few by the Kraemer wetland in Burnsville (near Hwy 13 and west of Cty road 5) late in July.

Posted by: Jen - Duluth, MN
on: 2010-03-23 18:22:47

There is a healthy colony along Skyline Pkwy in Duluth. I have also observed it in rock outcrops in Duluth.

Posted by: Robyn - Litchfield
on: 2011-06-13 23:26:17

I found one growing along the side of the road under an oak tree last summer. VERY BEAUTIFUL!

Posted by: Robert - Maplewood
on: 2011-07-30 09:47:33

I have a wild onion plant which is the "nodding" variety, Allium.cernuum. White blossoms which hang downward.

Posted by: Joe - Hennepin County
on: 2011-08-21 08:40:41

I am fairly certain we saw prairie onion at Crow-Hassan County Park last evening in the sand prairie portions of the park.

Posted by: Al - Vadnais Heights - HB Fuller Preserve
on: 2012-06-19 15:36:45

Early blooming observed on 6/15/2012

Posted by: Pat - Minnetrista
on: 2013-06-29 19:39:54

I bought them as wild flowers about 20 years ago. The have a pale pink flower that "bob" in the wind and are quite attractive. Are about 8" in height and I consider them as kind of obnoxious as they self-seed in about a 4-5 foot circle. They also spread into the grassy area but not too badly, The definitely smell like onions when cut with the mower.

Posted by: Susan - Wright County, Monticello, MN
on: 2014-08-04 17:51:12

Spied one of these lovely flowers yesterday in Montissippi Park just west of Monticello while Geocaching.

Posted by: Marcia - Goodhue
on: 2015-06-20 22:52:14

Discovered oodles of them last year on a SW facing hill side of our farm, a former cow pasture. Suspect it is a remnant of native prairie.

Posted by: Kenny h - Freeborn county...prairie remnant
on: 2017-08-29 15:51:19

Aug. they doesn't show Freeborn County...deffinately not Nodding...deffinately not White Prairie...nice large colony...could see on a drive photos...between Austin and Albert Lea

Posted by: Sharon Adams - NORTH BRANCH
on: 2018-08-16 20:47:28

I spotted about 1/2 dozen of these plants on the walking trail in town North Branch, MN on County Rd 30 and Hwy 96 going north on path. Half of them had blossoms and the rest were just in the budding stage. Beautiful plants/buds/flowers!

Posted by: Michael W - St. Paul-Eastside
on: 2019-06-25 09:59:06

I purchased some from a grower at the St. Paul Farmer's Market 10 yrs ago. They are thriving at the sunny dry side of my rain garden next to the alley.

Posted by: Dennis Raymond - Lake Wobegon Trail near St. Cloud
on: 2019-07-29 20:46:04

My wife and I saw numerous examples of these beauties.

Posted by: David G - Rice Creek North Regional Trail - Shoreview
on: 2019-08-08 21:05:06

I found some blooming in the dry sandy portion of Rice Creek North Regional Trail.

Posted by: Kristi - Owatonna (55060)
on: 2019-08-25 01:28:58

Do these Prairie Onions stay around in our winters (zone 4)? If so, what form do they take in the winter? If not, what should be done to winterize them, and when (after the first frost, the first hard frost, etc.)?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2019-08-25 09:00:11

Kristi, the native Allium species need no special care. Like any other herbaceous perennial, the stems and leaves die back each year but the roots (and any bulb) survive the winter and come back the next year.

Posted by: Mike Saunders - Glacial Lakes State Park
on: 2020-08-14 21:12:13

Found these blooming in many areas along the hiking trails in Glacial Lakes State Park.

Posted by: Christian Franken - St. Paul
on: 2021-10-28 15:16:42

Just came across a clump in a wasteland along the BNSF tracks near Energy Park in St. Paul. I noticed the open seed capsules, wondered what it was, took some photos and ID'd at home. Can't wait for next summer to see them in bloom.

Posted by: Randy Blase - Minneapolis
on: 2022-08-23 08:37:51

On 8-22-2022 we saw hundreds of Prairie Onions blooming on the bedrock bluff and in open meadows of the Louisville Swamp of the Minnesota River Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This is very exciting place to experience the Minnesota River Valley. Wildflowers, geology are some of the attractions there.

Posted by: Jordan - Lake County
on: 2023-05-15 10:50:11

I was able to plant some of these in zone 3, Lake County on a rocky hillside last summer and they came back this spring very strong. A hardy plant!

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