De­spite the mod­est mien of Al­lium cer­nuum, this flavour­ful pol­li­na­tor gave Chicago its name

Canadian Wildlife - - FRONT PAGE - —MEL WALWYN

Tips for bet­ter gar­den­ing, na­tive flora in pro­file and ad­vice for bird­watch­ers.

37 Field Guide 38 Your Gar­den 40 Bird­ing

The nod­ding onion is an ap­peal­ing plant. It bears small pink, laven­der or white flow­ers atop a long stalk that bends some­what so that the clus­ter of blos­soms hangs down and gently nods. Soft grass-like leaves form at the base. Clus­ters of at­ten­u­ated bulbs form the root sys­tem. Found in On­tario, Saskatchewan, Al­berta and B.C., it

blooms for three or four weeks in July and Au­gust. It has a mild aroma of onion.

It has the taste of onion as well. The leaves in spring and fall are ed­i­ble, as are bulbs that are two years and older and, most de­li­ciously, the ten­der midsummer bulb-lets. An on­line search yields many serv­ing tips and recipes. North­west Coast First Na­tions would steam them in pits lined with cedar boughs.

This mem­ber of the lily fam­ily ap­peals to hum­ming­birds, but­ter­flies and bees — bees in par­tic­u­lar, as the down­turned um­bels of flow­ers dis­cour­age other in­sects, which are re­luc­tant to hang up­side-down while gath­er­ing nec­tar or pollen. The bees are drawn to the flow­ers’ un­touched sup­ply, pro­tected as well from the rain by the flow­ers’ down­cast po­si­tion. Af­ter pol­li­na­tion, the flow­ers face up­wards and morph into pa­per-like pods, even­tu­ally re­leas­ing shiny black seeds. The city of Chicago gets its name from the Al­go­nquin name for this mod­est plant, which flour­ished in a meadow near where French ex­plorer René-robert Cav­a­lier de La Salle en­camped in 1687. Ac­cord­ing to one of his com­pan­ion’s diaries, “We ar­rived at a place which is named Checagou,” he wrote, ap­prox­i­mat­ing the lo­cal Al­go­nquin di­alect, “which … has taken its name from the quan­tity of gar­lic which grows in this district, in the woods … like the lit­tle onions of France.”


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