Chives
Allium schoenoprasum
Lily family (Liliaceae)

Description: This introduced perennial plant is about 6-18" tall, consisting of an erect to spreading rosette of basal leaves that develop from clustered bulbs. The basal leaves are linear-filiform, hollow, glabrous, and somewhat glaucous. Some of the the larger leaves may bend downward toward the middle.

One or more flowering stalks develop within the basal leaves. These stalks are more or less erect and slightly taller than the surrounding leaves. They are usually leafless, although 1-2 cauline leaves may develop from an individual stalk. At the apex of each stalk, there is an umbel of pink or lavender flowers up to 1½" across. This umbel is spheroid and densely crowded with flowers. Each flower is up to ½" long, consisting of 6 lanceolate tepals that bend outward at their tips. There is a burgundy or purple longitudinal line along the length of each tepal. The slender pedicels are up to ¼" long and shorter than the tepals. Both the foliage and flowers have an onion-like aroma. The blooming period occurs during late spring and lasts about 3 weeks. Each flower is replaced by a 3-valved seed capsule that contains several seeds. The seeds are small and light enough to be blown about by the wind. The root system consists of slender bulbs about 1" long with membranous outer coats. They form abundant offsets and have coarse fibrous roots underneath. Chives often forms tight clumps of plants.

Cultivation: The preference is full or partial sun, moist to mesic conditions, and a fertile loamy soil. This species has few problems with insect pests or disease. It is winter hardy and long-lived.

Range & Habitat: Chives is an uncommon plant in the wild that has naturalized in only a few counties. It was introduced from Eurasia as a culinary herb, and can be found in herbal gardens. Habitats include grassy areas along railroads and roadsides, gardens and adjacent areas, and miscellaneous waste areas. Disturbed areas are preferred. Chives is less aggressive than Allium vineale (Field Garlic) and Allium canadense (Wild Garlic).

Faunal Association: The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract small bees and flower flies primarily. The foliage is not attractive to mammalian herbivores as a food source.

Photographic Location: Along a sidewalk at the webmaster's apartment complex. This plant was established from seed that had blown across the sidewalk from a neighboring pot of herbs.

Comments: The chopped foliage of Chives has a mild onion flavor that can used to season various dishes and sauces, including salads and sour cream. The flowerheads are also edible if they are picked while they are still young; they can be added to salads, and have the same flavor as the foliage. Chives is easy to distinguish from other Allium spp. cause of its dense umbels; its flowers are crowded tightly together. The umbels of other Allium spp. are more loose and there are conspicuous gaps between the flowers. The basal leaves of Chives are hollow and quite narrow, whereas the basal leaves of other Allium spp. are often solid and flattened; if they are hollow, then they are somewhat broader in circumference and taller. Chives doesn't produce aerial bulblets, whereas Allium vineale (Field Garlic) and Allium canadense (Wild Garlic) almost always do. There is a less common variety of Chives, var. sibiricum, that is a taller and more robust plant, otherwise it is very similar to the typical variety.

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