Monday, October 19, 2015

The Onion Weed

Onion Weed - Asphodelus fistulosus 
The onion weed is a spring-flowering plant of the lily family. It is found in Mediterranean countries but has been introduced in many areas with a Mediterranean climate particularly in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. It has also been introduced in Australia and New Zealand.

In the Maltese islands it is a rare species that can be found only in a few localities. I have seen in growing mostly on the walls of the bastions at the Argotti Batonic Gardens in Floriana and at Sa Maison Garden in Pieta’.

In Maltese it is known as berwieq żgħir.

In non-Mediterranean countries it has become a pest and measures are taken to try to eliminate it. This is a common situation where plants are introduced in areas where they are not indigenous. In Malta this has occurred with many species the best known being the Cape sorrel which in Maltese is known as the ħaxixa ngliża.

The onion weed is an asphodel. It is related to the very common species known as the branched asphodel. Both plants are very similar except for a big difference in size. The branch asphodel can grow up to 150 cm while the onion weed rarely reaches a height of fifty centimetres.  

This plant is an annual or short-lived perennial. It reproduces by seed which can be dispersed by wing water, machinery or agricultural produce. The seeds can also be carried around by mud attached to animals and vehicles.

The very common and larger branch asphodel flowers in winter and early spring. It grows in most habitats but is more common in rocky steppe. In some places, especially in areas that are regularly burnt, it can become the most common flowering plant.

This article was published in the Times of Malta on 23 April 2015,