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.