False Garlic
Nothoscordum bivalve
Lily family (Liliaceae)
Description: This herbaceous perennial plant consists of a loose rosette of 2-5 ascending basal leaves, from which a flowering stalk develops. The basal leaves are 4-12" long and 2-5 mm. across; they are medium green, hairless, linear in shape, and somewhat truncate at their tips. Leaf venation is parallel. The flowering stalk is 6-16" tall and more or less erect; it is medium green, hairless, terete (circular in cross-section), and hollow. This stalk terminates in a simple umbel of flowers about –1" across, consisting of 4-8 flowers and their pedicels. The umbel has a short obconic shape, and it is more or less flat-headed. Individual flowers are about " long and similarly across. Each flower has 6 tepals that are primarily white, 6 stamens, and a superior ovary with a single style. The interior base of the tepals is usually yellow, while the exterior of each tepal has a longitudinal vein that is often reddish or greenish. The tepals are elliptic or lanceolate-oblong in shape. The anthers of the stamens are bright yellow, while their filaments are white, pale yellow, or pale green. The pedicels are medium green, hairless, slender, and straight to slightly incurved; they are about –" long during the blooming period, but become up to 1" long afterwards. At the base of the umbel of flowers, there is a pair of membranous bracts that are about " in length and lanceolate in shape; they eventually wither away. The blooming period occurs from mid-spring to late spring, while a second blooming period sometimes occurs during the autumn. There is no noticeable floral scent. Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by seed capsules. These capsules are 6-8 mm. long, globoid-obovoid and slightly 3-lobed in shape, and hairless. Immature capsules are green, while mature capsules become light tan, dividing into 3 parts to release their seeds. There are about 4-6 black seeds for each lobe of a divided capsule. The root system consists of a bulb about " across with fibrous roots below. The exterior of the bulb is brown and membranous, while the interior is white and fleshy. Both the foliage and bulb of this plant lack a noticeable garlic or onion aroma. Occasionally, basal offsets occur, creating clumps of clonal plants.

Cultivation: The preference is an open area with full or partial sunlight, moist to dry-mesic conditions, and a slightly acidic to alkaline soil containing rocky material or sand.

Range & Habitat: The native False Garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve) occurs occasionally in southern Illinois and rarely in central Illinois, while in the northern section of the state it is absent (see Distribution Map). This plant is found primarily in the southeastern United States and Southern Plains region of the country. Illinois lies along its northern range-limit. Habitats include upland prairies, hill prairies, sandy or silty riverbottom prairies, rocky glades (including limestone, dolomite, and chert glades), open upland woodlands, upland savannas, and thinly wooded bluffs. In Illinois, False Garlic is found in higher quality natural areas, where it probably benefits from occasional wildfires and other kinds of disturbance if it reduces competition from woody plants.

Faunal Associations: The nectar of the flowers attracts cuckoo bees (Nomada spp.), green metallic bees (Augochlorella spp.) and other Halictid bees, Andrenid bees (Andrena spp.), bee flies, and small to medium-sized butterflies. One of the Andrenid bees, Andrena nothoscordi, is a specialist pollinator (oligolege or monolege) of False Garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve). This bee and other small bees also collect pollen from the flowers. Syrphid flies may visit the flowers occasionally to feed on the pollen, but they are less effective at cross-pollination. White-tailed Deer have been observed to feed on the foliage of False Garlic in areas of south Texas with loam or clay-loam soil (Chamrad & Box, 1968), although some authors consider this plant to be poisonous (Pammel, 1911). There is also sophisticated archaeological evidence that prehistoric people, thousands of years ago, cooked the bulbs of this plant in rock ovens in east Texas (Short et al., 2015).

Photographic Location: A prairie at a nature preserve in Fayette County, Illinois. The photographs were taken by Keith & Patty Horn (Copyright 2016).

Comments: False Garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve) resembles several other species in the Lily family (Liliaceae), especially native Allium spp. (Wild Garlic, etc.). This plant can be distinguished from this latter group of species by the lack of a noticeable garlic or onion aroma from its foliage and bulbs when they are rubbed or crushed. In addition, False Garlic never produces aerial bulblets in its inflorescence. Unlike many similar species in the Lily family, False Garlic has flowers with a yellow base and its basal leaves often have tips that are more truncate than rounded or pointed. Recently, the Lily family has been divided into several families of plants as a result of DNA analysis. Another common name of Nothoscordum bivalve is Crow Poison. The latter name suggests that this plant is poisonous, but the available evidence on this matter is contradictory.