Allium stellatum (Prairie Onion)

Plant Info
Also known as: Autumn Onion, Pink Wild Onion, Prairie Wild Onion
Genus:Allium
Family:Alliaceae (Onion)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
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.

Notes:

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.

Comments

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. 29...here they were...map doesn't show Freeborn County...deffinately not Nodding...deffinately not White Prairie...nice large colony...could see on a drive by...got photos...between Austin and Albert Lea

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