Flat Stemmed Onion

As I mentioned in my previous post, various edible wild onion species can easily be confused with the highly poisonous death camas (Zygadenus venenosus). When not in the flowering stage, both the death camas and wild onions have grasslike leaves arising from bulbs. One significant difference is that wild onions always have, to a greater or lesser extent, an onion or garlic odor and flavor. In addition, the flowers are distinctive. It is imperative to be absolutely positive wild onions are correctly identified before eating them since confusion with death camas can have fatal results.

Flat stemmed onion (Allium platycaule) is a perennial wild onion that is native to Northeastern California where Leonard and I live. It can also be found in neighboring areas of Oregon and Nevada. Dry flats, screes and slopes in sagebrush country are the preferred habitat of this beautiful onion. These flat stemmed onions were photographed at Willow Creek Campground near Adin CA.

The individual rose-purple flowers have three sepals and three petals that are the same color and look alike, making the flat stemmed onion appear to have six petals. The tepals (petals and sepals that look the same) are very narrow. Each plant has long, flat sickle-shaped basal leaves.  The single inflorescence (flower cluster) at the top of the stem resembles a dense ball of filaments. Tissue-like bracts are at the base of the inflorescence.

Also commonly called a broad stemmed onion, A. platycaule was used as food by indigenous people and is still eaten today. The entire plants is edible, tasting and smelling like onion. The bulbs and leaves can be consumed raw or cooked. The individual flowers make a pretty garnish for salads. Once cooked the seeds can be peeled and eaten too. Since flat stemmed onion is more localized and less common than many other wild onion species, we do not eat it, although Leonard and I have tasted the bulbs and flowers. They are good!

The genus name, Allium, comes from the Latin word for garlic.

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