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Allium siculum (Sicilian honey garlic)

Sicilian honey garlic has attractive bell-shaped flowers, but don't be fooled by its beauty - like most members of its genus and subfamily it has an unpleasant smell when bruised.

Flowers of Alium siculum

Allium siculum (Photo: Leo Michels)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Allium siculum Ucria

Common name: 

Sicilian honey garlic

Conservation status: 

Not known to be threatened.

Habitat: 

Damp woods and fields among rocks.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental.

Known hazards: 

Avoided by grazing animals, because of its acrid, garlicky smell and presumably bad taste.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Lilianae
Order: 
Asparagales
Family: 
Amaryllidaceae
Genus: Allium

About this species

The familiar culinary plants, onions, leeks, garlic and chives, are all members of the genus Allium, which comprises approximately 750 species. Allium siculum is a bulbous plant with narrow leaves and a tall, straight stem with an umbel of hanging, bell-shaped flowers.

The narrow, fleshy leaves of A. siculum emerge in late winter or early spring. The flowering stems appear in May and June, as the leaves die down. The stem emerges from a loose, sheathing leaf, with the flowers enclosed in a pair of green, spathe-like bracts. When this splits, the flowers hang downwards, like small, stiff bells, with glistening nectar inside.

Synonym: 

Nectaroscordum siculum, Trigonea sicula, Nothoscordum siculum

Genus: 
Allium

Discover more

Geography and distribution

Native to Europe, where it occurs from the Mediterranean to Romania. Allium siculum subsp. siculum occurs from southern France and Corsica to Italy (including Sicily). Allium siculum subsp. dioscoridis is native to eastern Romania, Bulgaria, the Crimea and western Turkey.

Description

Allium siculum is a bulbous plant with narrow leaves 30–40 cm long, and forms an untidy clump at ground level. The leafless flowering stem is up to 120 cm tall, smooth and with a grey colour.

The pendulous flowers are borne in an umbel, each of which contains up to 30 individual flowers. The perianth segments (petals and sepals) are up to 17 mm long, and the inner segments have a single vein. The perianth (petals and sepals) is dull reddish in A. siculum subsp. siculum, and green and pink in A. siculum subsp. dioscoridis.

The fruiting heads are striking, with stiffly upright capsules covered by the papery remains of the perianth. The flattened seeds are 3 mm long.

Illustration from Curtis's Botanical Magazine

A printed plate of Allium siculum subsp. dioscoridis from a watercolour drawing by Lilian Snelling (1955), taken from Curtis's Botanical Magazine.

Curtis’s Botanical Magazine (Editor: Martyn Rix) provides an international forum of particular interest to botanists and horticulturists, plant ecologists and those with a special interest in botanical illustration.

Now well over 200 years old, the Magazine is the longest running botanical periodical featuring colour illustrations of plants. Each four-part volume contains 24 plant portraits reproduced from watercolour originals by leading international botanical artists. Detailed but accessible articles combine horticultural and botanical information, history, conservation and economic uses of the plants described.

Published for the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Find out more about Curtis's Botanical Magazine

Threats and conservation

Allium siculum is a widespread species, though never common.

Uses

Allium siculum is grown as an ornamental.

Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

The Millennium Seed Bank partnership aims to save plant life worldwide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in Kew's seed bank vault at Wakehurst.

Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: Two

Cultivation

Allium siculum is easily cultivated in ordinary soil, in sun or light shade. It can produce abundant seeds and become weedy. Its unpleasant smell can be detected at some distance from the plant.

This species at Kew

Allium siculum grows in the Director’s Garden at Kew.

References and credits

Stearn, W.T. (1955). Allium bulgaricum. Curtis’s Bot. Mag. 170: tab. 257.

Stearn, W.T. (1978). Nectaroscordum siculum subsp. bulgaricum (Janka) Stearn. Annales Musei Goulandris 4: 104.

The Plant List (2010). Allium siculum. Available online (accessed 16 June 2011).

World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Available online (accessed 16 June 2011).

Kew Science Editor: Martyn Rix
Copyediting: Emma Tredwell, Malin Rivers

While every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, the notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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