There are many species of wild garlic (Allium), all of them are geophytes – plants with a subterranean storage organ. Some species are very familiar to us: Allium sativum and Allium cepa are familiar kitchen items, although better known in their common names – garlic and onion, respectively. The onion layers, which we use in salads, are actually the bases of the leaves that have become storage organs (scale leaves), whereas the garlic cloves are secondary vegetative reproduction bulbs, branched from the mother bulb that has withered. Subterranean storage organs enable the plant to be active during the preferable season (in Israel most species are active at the end of winter, in spring and early summer), while in the stressful summer the above-ground parts dry out and the plant is dormant.

Allium species contain an interesting blend of secondary metabolites, such as allicin, that contain sulphur and give these plants their typical strong odour and taste. These organic compounds have antiseptic properties and various medicinal uses, such as preventing cancer, preventing blood clots, etc.

Some 25 species of wild garlic grow in Israel, many of them in our Botanical Garden. Currently, a few species are finishing flowering, such as the wild leek (Allium ampeloprasum), which features a tall, upright flowering stem that can reach up to 2 m in height. The ball-like inflorescence bears dozens of flowers. This species appears in shades ranging from purple to white. This is the wild relative from which the leek that is used for cooking was domesticated. Around the bulb of the wild leek many reproductive bulbils develop, creating a mass of flowers around the mother plant.

Several species of wild garlic are currently in bloom in the display of Israeli miniature plants in front of the garden office. The display includes Allium phanerantherum, Allium kollmannianum and Allium albotunicatum; the two latter are “red plants”, listed in the Red Data Book of Israel’s rare and endangered plants. Allium kollmannianum grows on loess soils in the triangle between Be’er Sheba, Arad and Dimona, an area prone to high pressure of land degradation due to development of Bedouin settlement, afforestation, agriculture and infrastructure. This is an endemic species to Israel, described to science only 25 years ago. It blooms in a cryptic cream-beige colour that camouflages it against the background of the desiccated vegetation. The reason for its unusual colour and flowering season still remain to be studied. Allium albotunicatum is limited in distribution to a few isolated sites in the Judean and Samaria Mountains, while more common at high altitudes in the Hermon Mountain. It shares the same flowering season and colouration of A. kollmannianum, which raises the question of why many Allium species bloom in the dry season, with almost invisible floral colours. This is still an unanswered question, waiting to be resolved.  

Photo: Shaked Tamir

Allium phanerantherum, Photo: Shaked Tamir

Photo: Yuval Sapir

Allium kollmannianum, Photo: Yuval Sapir

Photo: Gavri Sion

Allium albotunicatum, Photo: Gavri Sion