Monday, July 27, 2009

NODDING DELIGHT

The road I live on parallels the river and dead-ends about a quarter-mile upstream from the cottage. The blacktop climbs slowly between my turnoff and the turnaround at the end, following along almost at the top of a steep bank which runs up from the river. The stream is about a hundred feet from the road and anywhere from thirty to fifty feet below, depending on where you are along this road.
There are a dozen or so houses scattered along both sides of the road for the first half of this distance. The rest of the paved road to the turnaround makes its way through a old, second-growth woods on the side away from the water, and big sycamores and mixed hardwoods on the river side—many of which sit at the water level so you’re actually looking down or at eye-level with their crowns. Most of the road—and especially this latter section—runs through deep shade.
Few vehicles disturb the peace—neighbors coming or going, the occasional delivery van, the occasional driver who makes a miscue looking for a shortcut. Otherwise the road is quiet except for birds and the background hum of distant traffic. A good place for a morning walk with the dog.
Lately, the shady bank on the roadside away from the river has sported a profusion of dainty blooms of Nodding Onion. The pinkish clusters look like they might be exploding—each tiny flower with its yellow-tipped stamen, seems to spray out from the center. The whole is affixed to the tip of a leafless green stem shaped like a shepherd's crook. Much to Moon-the-Dog’s annoyance, I’ve insisted on slowing our walks to a series of stuttering pauses, to better examine these one-to-two-foot-tall plants…and the closer I’ve looked, the more I’ve come to admire their distinctive, drooped–over clusters of delicate but exquisite flowers, which give the plant its name.
Nodding Onion, Allium cernuum, is also sometimes called Lady’s Leek. It is an Ohio native plant, said to be found on scattered sites throughout the state, though not listed on the USDA’s database as occurring in my county. I doubt I’m the first to find it here, but it probably is mildly uncommon.
During their great expedition, however, Lewis and Clark apparently stumbled on an island in the upper Missouri covered in nodding onion. In their journal report for 1805, they wrote: “Here we found great quantities of a small wild onion about the size of a musket-ball, crisp and as well flavoured as any of our garden onions; the seed is just ripening, and as the plant bears a large quantity to the square foot, and stands the riguors of climate, it will no doubt be an acquisition to settlers. From this production we called it Onion Island.”
It is also said that the city of Chicago gets its name from the Algonquin Indian name for this plant, chigagou.
Nodding Onion has only grass-like basal leaves. The clusters of flowers, properly called umbels, are said to range in shades from white to a rose-magenta, though all the ones along this bank are pale to medium pinks. The bloom period is from now through August.
As some of these plants are growing right at the edge of the roadway, I plan on digging up a few of the bulbs, as well as collecting seed later on, and seeing if I can get a start in my yard. I might even try and handful in a soup or stew.
In the meantime, I’ll keep irritating dog with my regular pauses.

22 comments:

Jain said...

"Lady's Leek," I like it! Very pretty. Best wishes with the transplants and seeds. The Chicago history bit is fascinating. Happy cooking!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

It sounded neat to me, too—although from what I've read, it's not exactly a lady-like onion; rather a bit on the strong side. I'll let you know.

KGMom said...

Well, there's a turnabout--usually it is the dog slowing down (to sniff) that slows my walks.

What a wonderfully informative post. I love the history bits, and the Lewis & Clark tie-in. I read Undaunted Courage several years ago, and hung on every word recounting their journey.

Rowan said...

I like all the allium family, they all seem to be very decorative plants, and the nodding varities are very graceful. If allium cernuum is anything like the varieties I have in my garden you'll have no problem getting it going - your problem might be stopping it once it gets started :) I was really interested to read about how Chicago got its name, I know a great many American place names, especially lakes and rivers, are named from the original Native American languages but the ones I know in NE are usually more obvious than Chicago is.

Wanda said...

Lady's Leek is new to me...I haven't come across any on our property, but I should keep an eye open for it...I just discovered Jacob's Ladder the other day on a walk...and a Stag Beetle was at our back door early one morning...although he/she was not quite as handsome as yours was.
Thanks for the history lesson.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Moon-the-Dog and I take turns slowing one another down, she to sniff, I to stare.

Although Meriwether Lewis declared the mouth of the river Dubois to be the expedition's official departure point, most historians consider the two and a half months spent descending the Ohio River to be part of the journey, in spite of the fact William Clark didn't actually join the group until it reached a point on the Indiana side of the river across from Louisville, Kentucky.

Still there's arguably a good bit of Ohio history connected with the Journey of the Corps of Discovery.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

I've always liked alliums in the flower garden, too. And I expect you're right on my having no problem getting these wild ones going…and the possible consequences. So I'm going to give some attention to where I put bulbs/seeds before planting.

Several references recounted the same story about the Chicago name business—though these were all sources concerned with wildflowers and native plants rather than histories of the city. If true, I wonder what some of today trendy teens would have to say about their big city being named for a stinky onion?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

Surely those nodding onions bloomed on the same bankside up the road last year…but I have no recollection of seeing them there. Which says…maybe they're new to that spot; or this is a particularly great season for them and they're prolific where before they were scarce; or last year I didn't walk up that road a single time during their bloom period; or I've reached the age/mental capacity where I can hide my own Easter eggs.

That's the most wonderful part about nature and the seasons…no two days are ever exactly alike. You can walk your land or neighborhood for decades and discover new stuff all the time; you can look out your window and spot a new bird at the feeder, or see them do something you'd never before witnessed. It's always new, always different—yet always comfortable and mostly familiar.

I like Jacob's Ladder—both name and plant—though I often momentarily get it mixed up with False Jacob's Ladder, until I remember its stem grows in a slight curve.

Now I'm telling you, Wanda…there's a stage beetle in your future. You might as well accept this and invite the next one in. :-)

Grace said...

They sure are pretty, very delicate looking. I'd like to learn more about native plants in my area.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Grace…

One of the reasons I make (and post) the sort of wildflower photos I do is because most of us, myself included, tend to look at things and not really see them. There's an endless variety of lovely things out there almost underfoot, so much beauty which often goes unregistered when we take a walk.

Photography forces me to look closer and better, to pay attention to details. And this is what I hope to share, this looking and appreciating.

I'm not familiar with the wildflowers of your area, Nova Scotia… so I can't recommend what are undoubtedly the best titles. But three wildflower books I do like a lot, because they give quite a bit of folklore and history on many species (including some overlap of plants in your area, I'm sure) are: THE HISTORY AND FOLKLORE OF NORTH AMERICAN WILDFLOWERS, by Timothy Coffey;THE SECRETS OF WILDFLOWERS, by Jack Sanders (this is a revised and expanded version of Sanders's earlier book, HEDGEMAIDS AND FAIRY CANDLES); and BOTANICA NORTH AMERICA, by Majorie Harris.

Gail said...

Hi Grizz-
I love, love, love the pictures of the striking and dance-like "nodding onion". Amazing.

It is so nice to see you, - I missed you.

Love Gail
peace.....

Kelly said...

Scribe...I love your writing style. It's absolutely beautiful. After reading your description, I wouldn't even have to look at a photo to understand the delicate nature of its blossoms, but I'm glad you're handy with a camera as well, because the photos are stunning. ...and you throw in history and science to boot! I'm so glad I found your site (and it's even better that you're an Ohio blogger too). I'll keep my eye out for Lady's Leek along the Little Miami River.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Who woulda thunk an onion—wild or otherwise—could be so lovely?

Hey, I'm glad you missed me—although (and forgive the double-negative sentence) I really didn't intend to not post to this blog for so long. Somehow or other, it just happened. Laziness or lassitude, or just momentarily giving in to the mid-summer urge to curl up and vegetate; that's what happens when you live on a riverbank…you begin acting like the turtles who spend their days sunning on the logs.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Kelly…

Thank you for such nice words regarding the writing. I'm glad you found your way here, too, as I've enjoyed both your comments and my visits to your blog. (And it is neat that you're also an Ohioan, as are several other readers. Never let it be said we Buckeyes are simply worthless nuts!)

The USDA's plant database doesn't show nodding onion as occurring in a couple of counties along the Little Miami. So depends on which portion of the trail you walk—although, as I said in the post, it isn't listed as being in this county, either. I think it's probably more bookkeeping than rarity, though.

Carolyn H said...

Griz: That's a very pretty little plant. I don't ever recall seeing it here in my neck of PA.

Carolyn H.

The Weaver of Grass said...

All the alliums are so pretty aren't they Scribe - I bet the seed heads in the fall are exquisite.
You are very welcome to join in tomorrow's inspiration meme if you are so inclined.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

Looking at the USDA's database for PA, I'd say it's reported in perhaps two-thirds of the counties, more often in the lower half and western end of the state. The ones here are on a roadside bank which usually has Dutchman's Breeches in the spring. You may be a bit high on your mountain. It has just started blooming here, and should go through August.

It is very pretty.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

You know, I used to think "Why would anyone plant what amounts to decorative onions in their flower gardens?" Then I began looking at the plants, and of course, you have to fall in love.

If I can remember, I'll take some shots of the seed heads this fall and post them. I think they're they're quite lovely—but you can see and decided for yourself.

I may take you up on the meme tomorrow; if so, I'll let you know.

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

That's a lovely little flower. It does remind me of the shape of exploding fireworks. Neat history!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Lynne…

Guess it was the month which reminded me of fireworks. But who knew a wild onion/leek had such a pretty and delicate flower?

gleaner said...

Catching up on my blog reading - wow, I really love these photos!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gleaner…

They came out well—and those little onions are simply spectacular when examined up close.