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Alisma, and Allium . A-Z of plant genera.

Updated on February 4, 2016

Alisma plantago aquatica



In this series A-Z of plant genera, we review the species that occur within a particular genus. Here we review three genera containing a diverse range of plants that vary greatly in distribution size and form. Where it is applicable species grown as cultivars will be accompanied by horticultural tips. we commence with the genus Alisma, which is a genus of flowering plants in the family Alismataceae within the order Alismatales.

They are collectively known as the Water Plantains. There are a variety of species of aquatic plants, which are floating species or submerged or some growing in mud. The habitat consists of still water, saturated soil, marshes, swamps and flooded farmland. Many species quickly become established.

Alisma canaliculatum


Alisma gramineum


Alisma planta aquatica


The species

Alisma canaliculatum, is a plant native to Japan , Korea, Taiwan and China. These plants produce lanceolate foliage up to one and three quarter feet long. The flowers are small with three petals borne on branching panicle.

Alisma gramineum, is the classed leaved water plantain is a plant to parts of Europe, Asia, Canada, most of the western United States, and one or two more locations in the east and North Africa. It may be encountered growing in wet mud, or submerged in shallow, fresh or brackish water generally in marshy situations.

If the plant is submerged the tiny flowers remain closed and are self pollinating, however, if they emerge and grow above the water the flowers open. There are variants in leaf form also, those occurring beneath the water are ribbon-like, those that occur above the surface are stiff and lanceolate . Here in the UK it is an endangered and protected species.

Alisma plantago aquatic {Header photograph} is commonly referred to as the European water plantain, sometimes referred to as the 'Mad dog weed', is a perennial flowering plants found across most of Europe and Asia, and has naturalized in parts of the USA and Canada.

It is a plant encountered in mud or fresh shallow water. The root system is fibrous, from which arise several long, basal stemmed leaves up to one foot long. The triangular flowering stem may attain the height of three feet. It becomes branched and bears numerous small flowers about half an inch {I cm } across. They consists of three white or pale purple petals that are rounded or slightly notched sometimes ragged looking petals. There are three blunt,green sepals and six stamens per flower. The flowers tend to open in the afternoon from June until August.

In some countries the species has been used in herbal medicine,particularly Russia and China. The cultivar is a rhizomatous aquatic perennial,forming rosettes of grey-green leaves up to a foot long. Above which arises tall panicle's of white flowers almost three quarters of an inch across they appear in late spring.

If grown in soil it must be wet and poorly drained.However, if grown asa marginal plant in ponds it requires a water level of at least a foot deep. They need to be dead-headed regularly to prevent self seeding and to stop it becoming invasive. They are generally pest and disease free. They may be propagated, if required, by division during the spring.

Alisma lanceolatum


Flowers of Alisma subcordatum The American water plantain


Alisma lanceolatum and other species.

Alisma lanceolaum is commonly referred to as the Lance-leaved water plantain or Narrow -leaved water plantain. It is a species that is widespread in Europe,North Africa and temperate regions of Asia. It has been introduced and naturalized in countries such as Australia and parts of the southern USA and Canada,where they are often classed as being a noxious weed.

It is a perennial herb growing in water or mud. It produces lance-shaped foliage up to ten inches long, on long stalks .The flower stems are about one and a half feet tall. Many small, pink flowers are produced that open in the morning,from June until August in its natural state. They have rounded petals.

Other species include Alisma nanim,a species endemic to China,growing in marshes at elevations of six hundred metres above sea level. Alisma orientale,is sometimes considered to be a variety of Alisma found in Asia. Alisma subcordatum, the American water plantain { also regarded by some authorities to be another subspecies of A.plantago-aquatica,is encountered in most of eastern and central USA and Canada. They produce small white flowers {sometimes pink}. They have three petals and flower from June until September. Alisma wahlenbergii, is a native to the regions around the northern Baltic sea,such as Finland,Estonia and north west Russia, it is classed as being a Threatened Species.

A selection of cultivated Alliums

Taken at the BBC's Gardeners World show.
Taken at the BBC's Gardeners World show. | Source

The genus Allium

Allium is a genus of flowering plants that include many garden vegetables such as Onion, Garlic, Shallot and leek. The genus name is the Latin word for Garlic. It is a genus which causes great debate about which species actually belong to it and different authorities number them from as low as two hundred and fifty species to as high as seven hundred and fifty species.,However, most authorities seem to accept the latter number as being more accurate.

They occur in the temperate regions of the northern Hemisphere except a few species that occur in Chile, Brazil and tropical Africa. They belong to the family Amaryllidaceae within the order Asparagales. There are a plethora of cultivars which are a group of perennials, many of which are edible,with bulbs,rhizomes or fibrous rootstock. Nearly all have narrow,basal leaves,smelling of onions when crushed,and most have small flowers packed together in a dense umbel,generally round or a shuttlecock shape.. Dried umbels are utilized dried as winter decoration. They are frost to fully frost hardy. They require an open sunny position and well drained soil and they are best left undisturbed to form a clump.It is recommended that they are planted in autumn,or by dividing established clumps of spring flowering varieties in late summer and the summer flowering varieties in the spring.

Flower of Allium acuminatum

Taken at City of Rocks National Reserve , Idaho, USA.
Taken at City of Rocks National Reserve , Idaho, USA. | Source

Allium oreophilum Flower umbel


Allium flavum produces yellow flowers


Allium the species

Allium acuminatum which is also referred to as the Tapertip Onion,or Hooker's Onion,is native to the western Untied States and Canada. The foliage arises from bulbs less than an inch across and smelling of onions. The flowering stem known as the scape is up to forty centimetres high {16 inches} The terminal umbel consists of as many as forty flowers. Both the bulb and flowering stalk are edible. The stalk is regarded as having the better flavour.

The cultivar Allium acuminatum sometimes found under the name Allium murrayanum, is a spring flowering bulb with two to four ,long,narrow,semi-erect,basal leaves. The stems of this species bears an umbel approximately two inches across,and consists of up to thirty,small purplish pink flowers. They grow from four to twelve inches tall with a spread of two to three inches. they require full sun and well drained soil. They are frost hardy down to minus five degrees Celsius {23 degrees F}.

Allium oreophilum, sometimes found under Allium ostrowskianum, is a spring flowering bulb with two narrow,semi-erect,basal leaves. They produce a loose dome shaped umbel consisting of ten widely ,bell-shaped flowers,which are a deep rose pink and up to three quarters of an inch across. They attain the height of two to four inches with a similar spread. They require full sun and a well drained soil and they are completely frost hardy. It is often referred to as the Pink Lily Leek and is native to countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, European Russia and Turkey

Allium flavum is a clump forming summer-flowering bulb reaching the height of between four to twelve inches witha spread of three to four inches. They are fully hardy. The foliage is linear and erect on the lower half of the flowering stem,which itself is slender. They produce a loose umbel of up to thirty bell-shaped flowers each about a quarter of an inch long,on thin arching stalks. Requirements are the same as the previous species.

Cultivated Allium gianteum {Purple ball flower}

Note how the image shows the beautifully formed individual flowers that make up the umbel.
Note how the image shows the beautifully formed individual flowers that make up the umbel. | Source

Allium gianteum make impressive displays


Allium gianteum

Allium gianteum, is a familair and popular species with gardeners. It is a robust,summer flowering species with long and wide,semi-erect basal leaves. It is also the tallest species of Allium under cultivation. It produces a stout stem with a dense globed shaped head up to five inches across,consisting of fifty or more, star-shaped, purple flowers. This magnificent plant attains the height of about six feet,with a spread of twelve to fourteen inches. They require full sun and a well drained soil. They are frost hardy down to five degrees C {23 F }. They are native to south western Asia. Different varieties occur in cultivated species such as 'Globemaster' which is much shorter about three feet in height,but it produces much larger deep-violet umbels up to nine inches across.

Allium ursinum Eurpean Wild garlic or Bear garlic


Allium vineale

Taken in Germany
Taken in Germany | Source

Allium cepa, Red Onion Variety

Leaves, roots and developing bulbs
Leaves, roots and developing bulbs | Source

Allium aflatunense and other species

Allium aflatunense, is a summer flowering bulb with semi-erect, basal leaves,dying away by the time flowering occurs. It produces fifty or more star-shaped purple flowers in a large tight, rounded umbel. They are about thirty inches high when in full growth with a spread of six to eight inches,the requirements are the same as the previous species.

Allium schoenoprasum, is the Chives an edible species used in western cuisine. This perennial plant is widespread across most of Europe,Asia and North America. They are a commonly grown herb. Insect repellent properties make these a popular herb in the garden ,however,bees visit them regularly. The bulbs are slender and conical. The scape or flower stem is hollow and tubular up to twenty inches. The flowers are pale-purple, and star-shape, with six petals. Before the flowers open they are surrounded by a pale coloured papery bract. The flowers show in April and May in southern regions,however, in northern regions flowering may only commence in June.

It is generally the stems that are harvested for culinary purposes. They have also been used medicinally having the same but weaker properties than Garlic.

Allium sativum native to central Asia and another species long used in culinary and medicinal preparations. The wild Garlic bulbs include Allium ursinum which occurs in Europe and the UK. In North America the species Allium vineale is the one known as the wild Garlic or Crow Garlic. Allium canadense is also referred to as Wild Garlic, Wild Onion, or Meadow garlic,which occurs as a common weed in fields.

Allium cepa, is the common Onion and is the most frequently used cultivated species of Allium. There are many other species referred to as Onions and cultivated for food. Examples of this are the Japanese bunching onion,Allium fistulosum, the Egyptian Onion allium x proliferum and the Canada onion,Allium canadense. Allium cepa is the parent species of many cultivated varieties.

Chives, are used frequently in western cuisine


Allium cepa ' Yellow onion'.

Allium cepa varieties are the most commonly used Allium cultivar
Allium cepa varieties are the most commonly used Allium cultivar | Source


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    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      8 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi Dave, just stopped by again to read this wonderful hub! Hope you are well!

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Sally, thank you for your kind comments always a pleasure to see you here. Best wishes to you.


      hello, thank you too,for your kind comments always encouraging best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi D.A.L, A beautiful hub! The photos and each explained in detail. You must spend lots of time to deliver a perfect hub. I enjoyed reading another one of your informative hubs.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      2 years ago from Norfolk

      Hi Dave,

      Love the Allium which is such a decorative plant. Every time I see them flowering, I wish I had planted some in my own garden and of course, who would want to have a kitchen garden without any chives?

      Lovely hub and just as informative as always.



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