Allium oleraceum

Tracheophyta MagnoliopsidaLiliaceaeAlliumAllium oleraceum


A bulbous perennial herb of dry, usually steeply sloping, calcareous grasslands, and on open sunny banks in river floodplains. 0-365 m (Dovedale, Derbys.).



World Distribution

European Temperate element; widely naturalised outside its native range.

Broad Habitats

Calcareous grassland (includes lowland and montane types)

Light (Ellenberg): 7

Moisture (Ellenberg): 5

Reaction (Ellenberg): 7

Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 4


Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0

January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.4

July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 15.4

Annual Precipitation (mm): 827

Life form information

Height (cm): 80

Perennation - primary


Life Form - primary

Bulbous geophyte



Clonality - primary

Tuberous or bulbous, slowing cloning by offsets

Clonality - secondary

Detaching ramets on inflorescence

Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 327

Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0

Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0

Atlas Change Index: -0.24

Distribution information

JNCC Designations


Scarce Atlas Account

Scarce Atlas Account: 

Allium oleraceum L.

Field garlic

Status: not scarce 

This perennial generally occurs in predominantly south-facing dry grassy sites which are subject to summer drought. It often forms locally dense swards. It is found on steep slopes over chalk, oolitic and Carboniferous limestone, on field borders and on freely-draining banks on roadside verges. It is, however, most frequent as a riparian species, either as a component of the banks of floodplain meadows or in open sandy banks in the middle reaches of river systems. In these sites it will tolerate winter flooding, and it frequently occurs with other species with bulbs, bulbils or fleshy structures which are dispersed by water, such as Aegopodium podagraria (expanded leaf bases), Allium scorodoprasum, Allium ursinum, Gagea lutea, Ranunculus ficaria and Saxifraga granulata. I t is virtually confined to the lowlands, but it is recorded up to 365 metres in Dovedale, and 335 metres in Kingsdale.


In riparian situations it appears to colonise new sandbanks from bulb fragments, offsets and bulbils re-deposited from plants eroded out of established colonies. On roadside verges and in grazed situations it probably spreads vegetatively, as reproductive heads of bulbils, with or without flowers, are often removed by mowing or grazing. Fruit seems to be produced very rarely in Britain. 

The main centres of distribution are based on major river complexes: the Vale of York, Trent, Ure, Severn and Avon. The apparent decline in records within these complexes is probably due to under-recording, especially outside riparian habitats.

It is widespread in Europe from Scandinavia and northern Russia to northern Spain, Corsica, central Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and the Caucasus.

Once one is familiar with its `jizz', it is most easily located early in the season, before flowering, owing to its prominent and distinctive growth prior to the main flush of grasses. Subsequently it becomes more difficult to locate as grasses grow up and swards are mown and grazed. It is treated as a native species by Stace (1991) and Kent (1992) but W. T. Stearn (in Oswald 1993) considers that all the British Allium species except A. schoenoprasum and A. ursinum are long-established aliens.


H. E. Stace & T. E. Dixon

PLANTATT - Attributes of British and Irish plants. (.zip 1455KB) This dataset was compiled and published in 2004, and last updated in November 2008. Download includes an Excel spreadsheet of the attributes, and a PDF explaining the background and nomenclature. Note that the PDF version is the booklet as published, whereas the Excel spreadsheet incorporates subsequent corrections. A hardcopy can be purchased from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Atlas text references

Atlas (326a)
Hultén E, Fries M
1986.  Atlas of north European vascular plants north of the Tropic of Cancer. 3 vols.
Meusel H, Jäger E, Weinert E
1965.  Vergleichende Chorologie der zentraleuropäischen Flora. Volume 1. 2 vols.
Stewart A, Pearman DA, Preston CD
1994.  Scarce plants in Britain.