Friday, October 1, 2010

Egyptian Onions

This plant would be very comfortable in Dr. Seuss’ garden, it is quite a conversation piece.  It goes by many names: Egyptian Onions, Tree Onions, Walking Onions, Egyptian Tree Onions, Multiplying Onions, Top-Set Onions… I’ve even heard it called a Medusa Onion.  It’s botanical name is Allium x Proliferum. It has come by it’s various names from it's growth habits.  Where you would find the flowers on a traditional onion you find a group of small top-set onions or bulblets. Many times one of these little bulblets will send up it’s own stalk with more, even smaller, bulblets of it’s own – each of which will produce a new plant next year. This branching habit is what earned it the name Tree Onion. As these bulblets grow larger and heavier they eventually become too heavy for the plant to bear and it falls over – sometimes as far as two feet away from the base of the parent plant. After it falls to the ground it quickly sends out roots.  If you don’t keep these harvested or move them where you want them to grow they will literally walk across your yard. (i.e. Walking Onions) The Medusa Onion is somewhat self-explanatory – they tend to look like Medusa’s head of snakes.

But, what do you do with them?

Well, let me tell you. This is such a versatile plant:
  • The young shoots are used like green onions or chives – tender and delicious. They are growing long before you have even planted your green onions so you can eat them earlier in the spring.
  • The top-set bulblets are great pickled. They are a little tedious to peel, so I will just smash them with the side of a knife like you would garlic, remove the skin and put them through a garlic press. Delicious on hamburgers, or really anywhere you would use onion powder or onions in general.
    • They are a little more spicy than some of your normal onions – enjoy!
  • The stalks will get quite large in length and circumference.  We’ve had some as big around as a golf ball. They are hollow inside - great for stuffing like you would stuff a pepper; and then grilled.
  • The onion at the bottom (underground) does not get bulbous (round) like a traditional onion; But is still delicious used like any normal onion.
Wow! What a versatile plant is this! How many other plants have so many uses?

This onion has fallen to the ground and taken root.

It must be hard to grow?

NO – This is probably the easiest plant you will ever grow. I often give away top sets as PassAlong Plants to friends and neighbors. When they ask how to plant it I tell them to throw it on the ground where they want the plant to grow. They look at me like I’m crazy – which I may be, but that has nothing to do with onions – and I reassure them that is all it takes. If you really want a lot of them quickly separate the bulblets and plant them individually about 6” apart. Next year you’ll have a great start – the following year you’ll have so many you’ll have PassAlong Plants to share with your friends and neighbors! It survives extreme summers and winters, droughts and floods, green thumbs and brown thumbs alike. It is a very hardy perennial. Plant it once and you'll have free onions for years to come – what could be better than that!

Get your hands dirty!


  1. I have just acquired one of this from a friend having read about them in Mark Diacono's book A Taste of the Unexpected. I love the idea of walking onions though I do know that they wont be actually walking!!

  2. I've never heard of these - how fun! I've got to try them. Do you plant from seeds or do I have to get a pass-along?

  3. Wow! How cool are those!? That is the first time I have ever heard of them. Interesting article!

  4. Great post, Matt. I've never heard of these onions before, but I'm sure tempted to try them.


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