Hair Allium

'Hair' Allium,
a butt-ugly cultivar

"Let first the onion flourish there."

-Robert Louis Stevenson


Hair Allium'Hair' allium is a very strange flower. In the photos seen in bulb catalogs, its oddity was obvious. But not until it was actually planted in one of our sun-gardens & began blooming in late spring & early summer, did it become equally obvious that it is butt-ugly.

Its early May buds atop sixteen inch scapes are shown in the first photo. These swell at the bottom & turn from pinkish-white to pink toward mid-May, then begin to burst open at May's end, as shown in the second photo.

The progression is painfully slow. At mid-June the swolling flower-buds are still not fully developed. Toward the latter part of June, flowers are finally bursting out of their papery casings, showing themselves at their limited "best," as seen in the third photo.

Hair AlliumWhen the flowers at last open into something of fuzzball, there is a purple heart at the center of the many fine hair-like green petals (or pedicals).

The flowers look like small malformed purple brains with green tendrils. They could be used as props in a low-budget horror film, with invaders from Alpha Centauri attaching the hideously tendrilled brains to human necks, so that our eyes glow green, we lose our personalities, & are heard to say strange things while our mouths are frothing, such as: "We'd like to have you for dinner, little girl."

Hair Allium'Hair' is a mutation of the vastly more normal looking Drumstick Allium or Roundheaded Leek (Allium sphaerocephalon), but only the purple in the heart of 'Hair' hints of the original.

The species is native to southern Europe, northern Africa, & western Asia, but the mutated form 'Hair' erupted spontaneously in a wholesale grower's field-grown stock.

'Hair' allium has a weak winter presence, as it produces its slender grass by October even for the first year it is planted, & persists until after the late spring bloom before dying back for a while in summer.

We planted a dozen bulbs in autumn 2003 in a street-corner sun-garden that gets a very great amount of sun, amidst other alliums & herbs & other plants with low-water needs.

It is a hardy plant & bound to naturalize. But as it was not attractive, I dug it up & discarded the bulbs along the alley edge at the base of a planter-box. The next year, with the bulbs laying on the ground exposed amidst some tough alley weeds, they bloomed as well as they had their first ugly year.

The fourth photo shows them at their June "best" in the alley. I was so impressed that they hung on with such heroic vigor that I took a belated appreciation for them. I decided to leave them right where they were but covered with some good rich soil.


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