Skip to Content
Return to Home Page
Statewide IPM Program, University of California

Wild garlic  (Allium vineale)

Click on images to enlarge 

Life stages of wild garlic flower head with adventitious plants infestation in wheat flower buds aerial bulbils plant with bulb

Wild garlic is a perennial plant that primarily reproduces vegetatively by bulbils (small aerial bulbs) and bulbs. In California, it is found in central North Coast, San Francisco Bay region, lowlands of the southern North Coast Ranges, southern Klamath Ranges, Sacramento Valley and adjacent lowlands of the northern Sierra Nevada foothills, and northern Central Coast to about 330 feet (100 m).

When cattle feed on wild garlic foliage, meat and dairy products derived from them can have an onion flavor. Allium species contain sulfur compounds that can destroy red blood cells if a large enough quantity is eaten. Therefore, feeding on large amounts of leaves and bulbs can lead to anemia in humans and animals. However, for grazing animals usually such a problem arises only when a large proportion of the forage is wild garlic.

Wild garlic can form large colonies. The California Department of Food and Agriculture classified wild garlic as a Noxious Weed List B: Control is required in nurseries. Elsewhere, control measures are at the discretion of local County Agricultural Commissioner.

Habitat

Wild garlic grows in vegetable crops, vineyards, orchards, cultivated areas, and disturbed sites. It thrives in areas where summer moisture is available, especially heavy fertile soils and is tolerant to wet soil.

Young plant

The wild garlic sprout looks like a grass seedling, but the leaves are round and hollow.

Mature plant

Basal, grasslike leaves emerge from a bulb, usually forming a clump. The basal leaves are narrow, hollow, rounded, hairless, and 6 to 24 inches (15–60 cm). At maturity two plant types exist: those that produce a flowering stem and those that do not. Those that do not form the flowering stem are smaller and have narrower and fewer leaves. Flowering plants produce one round flowering stem that grows to 3-1/3 feet (1 m) tall and has 2 to 4 leaves per stem. Dense clusters of flowers and/or aerial bulbils are produced on top of the flowering stem forming the inflorescence. Leaves and bulbs have a strong garlic odor when crushed.

Flowers

Flowers bloom from May through July. The flower cluster (inflorescence) is half spherical or nearly spherical globe, about 4/5 to 2 inches (2–5 cm) in diameter. Typically, it is comprised of grain-sized, stalkless bulbils (small bulbs) with a few flowers on slender stalks above. The individual bulbils are egg shaped, brown to purplish brown, smooth and shiny, 1/5 inch (5 mm) in diameter and frequently grow thin green leaves while still connected to the stem. Flowers are greenish white to pink or reddish violet. A papery leaflike bract is found at the base of the inflorescence.

Fruits

The fruit is an egg-shaped capsule, about 1/8 to 1/6 inch (3-4 mm) long, with 3 chambers.

Seeds

Seeds are semicircular, flattened, dull black, about 1/8 inch (3 mm) long, wrinkly and are frequently under developed.

Reproduction

Wild garlic reproduces vegetatively by aerial bulbils and underground bulbets.

Related or similar plants

  • Star-of-Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum
  • Three-cornered leek, Allium triquentrum

More information