Allium babingtonii
Common Name: wild leek
Type: Bulb
Family: Amaryllidaceae
Native Range: Ireland
Zone: 5 to 9
Height: 3.00 to 5.00 feet
Spread: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Bloom Time: June to August
Bloom Description: Mauve to greenish white
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Vegetable, Naturalize
Flower: Showy, Good Cut, Good Dried
Tolerate: Deer, Black Walnut

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 5-9 where this plant is easily grown in deep, rich, medium moisture, well-drained, sandy loams in full sun. Plants tolerate a variety of soil types. Plants perform best with consistent moisture during the growing season. Bulbils not harvested will drop to the ground and sprout new plants which sometimes become somewhat weedy in the garden.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Allium babingtonii, commonly known as Babington’s leek, is a rare perennial of the onion family that is native to coastal rocky or sandy ground including sea cliffs near Cornwall and Dorset on the southwestern coast of England plus parts of coastal Ireland including Galway Bay, the Aran Islands, the northwestern and northeastern coasts, and Wexford and Waterford along the southern coast. Some consider this plant to be a relic of an ancient cultivation dating back to the old days of castles and monasteries. Others consider it to be an ancient introduction along the coast by prehistoric seafaring visitors to England and Ireland. This allium features narrow, glaucous, grass-like, linear green leaves which are flat above but keeled below. Leaves tend to wither around the time the flowers bloom. Flowers bloom June-August in loose, irregular, spherical umbels located atop leafless, stout, rounded flowering scapes rising to 3-5’ tall. Each umbel contains up to 500 tiny, mauve to greenish white, sterile flowers interspersed with short-stalked bulbils. Prior to bloom, the developing umbel of flowers and bulbils is enclosed with a papery sheath which splits apart when the flowers open. One unique thing about this species is that the bulbils will produce flowers.

Edible parts of this allium are the young spring leaves and the early fall bulbils, both of which can be added to salads and soups. Interesting ornamental qualities include the tall flowering spikes which tower above the foliage clumps.

This species is listed (particularly in Great Britain) as Allium ampeloprasum var. babingtonii.

Genus name comes from the classical Latin name for garlic.

Specific epithet honors English botanist Charles Cardale Babington (1808-1895).

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Bulb rot may occur in overly moist soils. Slugs attack young plants. Mildew, rust and leaf spots may appear. Watch for onion maggots and thrips.

Garden Uses

Rare plant that is usually grown for ornamental purposes. Borders, cottage gardens, wild gardens. May be grown in herb gardens and vegetable gardens where the young leaves and bulbils may be harvested for food. Leaves are tasty when young, but are not ornamentally attractive. Flowering stalks are ornamentally attractive when flowers are in bloom.