Allium cernuum neomexicanum

Nodding Onion - Allium cernuum neomexicanum 
Dry Creek West of Kingston
Black Range, New Mexico, USA

Most Allium species in our area have flowers which stand upright.  Allium cernuum, Nodding Onion, gets its name from its downward facing flower pedicel.  Note, however, that the seed capsules face upward once they form.  For an onion, it is rather large, from 1’ to 1.5’ (sometimes 2’) tall.  It is a butterfly attractor. 

This species is found throughout much of  the higher elevations of North America (Canada to Mexico).  We found this specimen in Dry Creek, just west of Kingston (Black Range, New Mexico, USA).  In the past, Nodding Onion was added to stews, eaten raw, etc. but this is generally not done today.  (Decades ago my climbing partner, Terry Carlin, and I were hiking into the north face of Mt. San Jacinto in southern California, USA.  We stopped for an evening meal beside a beautiful stream, took out our dehydrated food, boiled water, added the stuff in the packet, added a few native onions from around the stream to spice up the meal -- and smelled strongly of onion for a week.)

The line drawing of this species (right) is from “Illustrated Flora of the Northern States, Canada and the British Possessions”, Volume 1, p. 498, by N. L. Britton and A. Brown, 1913.  A full description of the species is available at Flora of North America.

The plant shown in these photographs is probably, Allium cernuum neomexicanum (New Mexican Nodding Onion).  This subspecies was first described by Per Axel Rydberg who characterized it as a full species, Allium neomexicanum, in 1899.  He described roughly 1,700 species during his career.  The type specimen was collected by E. O. Wooton on October 14, 1894, in the Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces.  He studied that area extensively during the course of his career.  See Contributions from the United States National Herbarium, Vol. 19 - Flora of New Mexico, by E. O. Wooton and Paul C. Standley, 1915.  The species A. neomexicanum was reclassified to a subspecies, A. c. neomexicanum, by James F. Macbride (who is known primarily for his study of the flora of Peru).

E. O. Wooton was the moving force in the establishment of the Jornada Experimental Range.  He had started cooperative range investigations in 1904, primarily in southern New Mexico, and was concerned primarily with the carrying capacity of range land.  In 1908 he published The Range Problem In New Mexico.  In 1912, the Jornada Range Reserve was established and he was in charge of the operation until 1915 when it was transferred to the USDA Forest Service. 

A fascination bit of history, arrived at by way of an onion.

© Robert Barnes 2018-2023