Allium schoenoprasum (Wild Chives)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Genus:Allium
Family:Alliaceae (Onion)
Life cycle:perennial
Origin:native
Status:
  • State Endangered
Habitat:part shade, sun; shallow bedrock soils and crevices along riverbanks and lake shores
Bloom season:June - August
Plant height:10 to 20 inches
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: FAC NCNE: FACU
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

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

[photo of flowers] Compact, rounded cluster ½ to ¾ inch wide of 30 to 50 stalked flowers, the cluster at the tip of a long, slender stem and sheathed by 2 papery, broadly lance oval bracts. Flowers are pale pinkish-purple, ½ inch long and half as wide, with 6 lance to narrowly triangular tepals (petals and similar sepals) with an abrupt taper to a sharp tip. The tepals are mostly erect and have a dark purplish stripe down the middle. In the center are white to purple-tipped stamens and a slender style. Flower stalks are about ¼ inch long and shorter than the flower. The tepals and cluster bracts are persisitent in fruit.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: alternate Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaf sheath] Leaves are long and slender, typically 2, grass-like but hollow and round in cross section, about as long as or shorter than the flowering stem, soft and weak, flopping over, and smell strongly of onion when crushed. Flowering stems are multiple from the base, mostly erect and hollow, hairless, sheathed in the lower ½ to 1/3 by the leaves. Plants are clustered from short rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: capsule/pod

[photo of fruit] Fruits are in the dried flower cluster, surrounded by the gray-brown, papery, persistent tepals. Fruit is a small 3-sectioned, oval capsule about ⅛ inch across with 3 shiny black seeds.

Notes:

While many people are familiar with the garden variety of chives, imported from Europe many years ago and widely planted, few people realize that there is also a native North American variety. Unfortunately its not always easy to tell which is which. Across its Asian, European and North American range, it is highly polymorphic which means it exhibits a wide range of growth characteristics like plant height, flower cluster size and color, and general growth form. This makes it almost impossible to reliably distinguish native populations from escaped garden plants from just herbarium specimens alone. But habitat can play a big role in discerning which is which. An Endangered species in Minnesota and Threatened in Michigan, it has only been documented from the rocky shores of Lake Superior and/or rocky terraces of nearby rivers, and a particular grassland with thin soils over bedrock, called alvar. In western US populations it is restricted to subalpine meadows. Escaped garden chives are found primarily along roadsides and other disturbed, weedy areas.

Both the Minnesota and Michigan populations do however exhibit several dissimilar traits from those of garden chives. In particular, the plants are a bit taller with flower heads that are notably smaller with fewer individual flowers, thus the clusters are less globe-like than garden chives. Another trait is that the natives are thinly distributed in a stand, more grass-like over an area, unlike the very dense clumps of stems and leaves produced by garden chives. While a native population has never been recognized in Wisconsin, that may be about to change. While canoeing on the St. Croix just south of St. Croix Falls several summers back, we discovered a large population of chives growing on top and about the face of a large bedrock cliff feature. Both the habitat and growth traits where similar to the population we observed at Jay Cooke State Park. We've collected a specimen for the herbarium at Madison and though waiting for their final determination, we are confident of its native origin and have used many images of that population here. According to the DNR, it was listed as a Threatened species in 1996 and elevated to Endangered in 2013, citing pressures from development and recreational activities as the biggest threats, but encroaching invasive species (Tansy in particular) jeopardize it as well.

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More photos

Photos by K. Chayka taken along the banks of the St. Croix River in Wisconsin. Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken at Jay Cooke State Park, Carlton County, and the St. Croix River in Wisconsin.

Comments

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

Posted by: Ann L - Todd County
on: 2017-07-29 17:26:29

Is there any other plant that looks like this? Since it is endangered, I guess I must assume that what I am seeing is garden escapees. They are growing in a woods, widely separated, single plants. I saw them into different spots, a quarter mile apart, no where near a road or garden. Central Todd county.

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2017-07-29 19:52:11

Ann, there are several Allium species in MN, most of which are native. The endangered wild chives is only found in the eastern part of the state, usually on river bluffs just above the high water mark. You won't find it in the woods in Todd County, though you may find garden chives or one of the other Alluiums.

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