Allium flowers or ornamental onions is a genus (Allium) of several hundred attractive flowering plants with spherical blooms. They belong to the family Amaryllidaceae. Allium flowers are bulbous, herbaceous perennial plants with specific garlic or onion odor which comes from their basal foliage. Allium flowers are sometimes referred to as flowering onion or onion flower.
The flowers are small (~2.5 cm), six-petalled, and they are grouped in a cluster at the top of the leafless stem. Allium flowers come in great variety of colors, shapes and sizes. The flower color can be white, red/burgundy, purple/violet, pink, white or yellow. The flower stem is elegant, slim and erect, and the bloom is showy and long-lasting. Depending on the species, the flower can have star, bell, cup or tubular shape, and the stem can be from 15 cm to 1.5 m tall. Some varieties have domed or flat-topped blooms.
Etymologically, the genus name Allium is of Latin origin and means garlic which, along with onion, leek, chives, scallion and shallot, is a type of an allium plant. According to some sources, the root of the word Allium is the Greek word “aleo”, meaning “to avoid” — a reference to the strong odor of the plant. Due to this strong odor, Christian myth associate the allium flower with the Devil. According to this myth, the flower blossomed in the place where the Devil left his footprints in the soil, on the way out from the Garden of Eden. His left foot produced garlic allium flowers, and his right foot produced onion allium flowers.
Many allium flower species are native to the northern hemisphere—North America and Euroasia. Some allium species grow on high mountain peaks, such as Mount Everest. Only a small number of allium species are found in South America (Chile and Brazil) and parts of Africa.
Some allium plants (including onion) are among the oldest cultivated plants in the world, with evidence that they have been grown in India, China and the Middle East. In the late 19th century, Russian botanists collected allium species from Central Asia and began cultivating them in the Botanical Garden in St. Petersburg. The British horticulturalists, intrigued by the beauty of these flowering plants, went on to new expeditions and discovered other allium flower varieties.
In their natural habitat, they prefer dry forests and mountain regions. As cultivated plants they have wide geographical distribution, and they sometimes behave like weeds. Most allium flowers bloom between late spring and early summer.
What do allium flowers symbolize?
The allium flower meaning is good fortune and prosperity, but also unity, patience, humility and grace.
Allium flowers symbolize unity
The symbolism of unity comes from the fact that the flowers are clustered into a single spherical bloom and develop from a single bulb. Onion is one of the better known member in the genus of allium flowers. The word “onion” comes from the Latin word “onio”, meaning “unity” or “one”.
Ancient Egyptian inscriptions and drawings indicate that allium plants were prominently used in their culture. The Ancient Egyptians were fascinated by the spherical shape of the allium flower and saw in it a symbol of the universe. In their rituals, they also appreciated the layers and the concentric rings of a sliced onion plant (Allium cepa), in which they see a symbol of eternal life.
In the symbolic flower language of the Victorian Era, the allium flower meaning was “you are strong”, “you are elegant” and “you are perfect”.
Allium flowers symbolize wealth and prosperity
Allium flowers (especially the common onion or Allium cepa) has been often ascribed the power to bring money, wealth and prosperity. It is believed that dreaming of Allium sativum (common garlic) announces good fortune. The Bolognese used to buy allium bulbs at the festival of St. John, believing that this would protect them from falling into poverty.
Allium flowers symbolize patience
Another allium flower meaning is patience— it is derived from the fact that these flowers bloom slowly.
Allium flowers symbolize health, protection and exorcism
In Sanskrit, the sacred language of Ancient India, the word for garlic allium means “slayer of monsters”. In many countries, allium is believed to ward off bad luck, evil forces (including witches, ware-wolves, vampires and the Devil), sickness and disease. In Germany, allium is known as ‘the ordinary man’s armor’. The 16th century botanist Clusius wrote that the German miners used allium as a powerful ally. They believed that it defended them from the assaults of impure spirits which often roamed in and around mines.
Two members of the allium genus—garlic and onion—have been used in traditional medicine for their antibacterial and antiviral properties. Alliums have also been used to treat asthma, anemia and various skin conditions. There is archeological evidence that the peoples of Ancient Peru often used allium plants in their folk medicine.
The early American settlers often hung strings of Allium cepa over their doors as a protection against infections. At the birth of a child, Greek midwives made the whole room smelled of allium, as they believed in the protective powers of the plant.
Allium flowers symbolize the mystical power of divination
There is a superstition that an allium flower bulb can be used as a type of an oracle. After a question is asked to which the person seeks an answer, one bulb is put aside for every possible outcome. The bulb which sprouts first provides the answer to the question.
Allium flowers symbolize immortality
A myth from the Hindu tradition tells the story of Sachi, God Indra’s wife, who tried to taste the nectar of immortality. The nectar was too strong for her and she spit it out. Where the nectar fell on the ground, the allium flower blossomed.
In Poland, the flower-stalk of Allium Porrum (leek) used to be planted in the hands of the statues of Jesus the Savior. The allium flower meaning was the reed that was given to the Savior at the time of the Crucifixion.
Allium flowers as a symbol of unrequited love
According to an Arthurian legend, the Land of Astolet was the place of Elaine’s castle. This lady died of a broken heart because her love for Sir Lancelot remained unrequited. Due to this legend, one variety of allium flowers—Allium oschaninii or eschalot—symbolizes unrequited love.
What do the various colors of the allium flower mean?
Violet Allium Flower
The violet or lavender color of an allium flower is a symbol of elegance, grace, spirituality, mysticism and wisdom.
Purple Allium Flower
Purple has traditionally been associated with royalty and high status. Purple allium flowers are an expression of admiration, respect and honoring the tradition.
Yellow Allium Flower
The yellow or golden color allium flowers symbolize life energy, joy, happiness, cheer and friendliness.
White Allium Flower
White allium flowers are usually seen as representing purity, innocence and virtue.
Blue Allium Flower
Like the spacious blue sky or the blue vastness of the ocean, blue allium flowers symbolize open-heartedness, honesty, please and tranquility.
Red/Burgundy Allium Flower
The red/burgundy allium flowers generally symbolize romance and passionate love. The red color is also seen as a color of excitement and courage.
Pink Allium Flower
Pink is the color of femininity and tender, romantic life. Pink allium flowers symbolize such gentle love and affection.
Orange Allium Flower
The orange allium flowers symbolize passion and excitement.
Interesting facts and characteristics of the allium flower
- Due to the strong odor, the Allium flower are safe from pests, including rabbits and pesky deer.
- Allium flowers contain organosulfoxides which are safe for humans but toxic to pets, including cats and dogs.
- In some eastern cultures and religions (especially in Jainism and Hinduism), the use of allium is either restricted or completely forbidden.
- In the Middle Ages, some allium bulbs (especially those of Allium cepa or common onion) were considered very valuable, and people used them to pay their rent with.
- The early American Dutch settlers planted Allium schoenoprasum (chives) in the fields in which their cattle grazed, so that the milk would be naturally flavored with the taste of this plant.
- Some matadors used to wear a clove of Allium sativum (garlic) on a string around the neck prior to and during a bullfight. Also, some sailors carried this plan on board as they believed it had the power to protect them against shipwreck.
- All alliums have the property of lowering the blood pressure.
The best time to gift someone allium flowers
Allium flowers make excellent cut flowers for both fresh and dried bouquets due to their long, erect stems and variety of shapes and colors.
Since one allium flower meaning is unity, these beautiful flowers perfectly fit the occasion of a marriage anniversary. Such a gift honors their strong bond. White allium flowers are a particularly popular choice for events such as weddings and baptism.
A pink or a red allium flower is a perfect Valentine Day gift to a loved one.