False Garlic

Nothoscordum bivalve

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Photo of false garlic flowers
False garlic looks like a wild garlic or onion plant, but it doesn’t smell like one! The flowers can be white, yellowish, or greenish, and they appear in spring and sometimes also fall.
Other Common Name
Crow Poison
Family

Amaryllidaceae (amaryllises); formerly Liliaceae (lilies)

Description

False garlic looks like a wild garlic or onion plant, but it doesn’t smell like one. The flowers are on on separate stalks arising from the same point at the top of a tall, leafless stalk; each flower has 6 tepals (petals and sepals combined) that look alike and are white, yellowish, or greenish. Blooms March–May; sometimes flowers again in October–November. Leaves are basal, grasslike (flattened, not hollow), and lower than the flowers. The rootstock is a bulb. Although false garlic looks like an onion or garlic plant, it does not have the characteristic odor.

Similar species: Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) is a common lawn weed that also has flowers with 6 tepals, but its tepals are always bright white with a green stripe under each, and they are not as pointy as those of false garlic. Star of Bethlehem's leaves are dark green, rolled inward, with a white stripe running down the center.

Size

Height: to about 10 inches.

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Photo of false garlic plant
False Garlic (Plant)
Although false garlic looks like an onion or garlic plant, it does not have the characteristic odor. It occurs in glades, ledges, prairies, stream banks, and openings of upland forests.

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Photo of false garlic flowers
False Garlic (Flowers)
False garlic blooms March–May and is one of our earliest blooming wildflowers. It sometimes flowers again in October–November.
Habitat and conservation

Occurs in glades, ledges, prairies, stream banks, and openings of upland forests. Found on both acidic and calcareous substrates. This species is found nearly throughout the eastern United States and south to South America.

image of False Garlic distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Nearly statewide. Less common north of the Missouri River and apparently absent from the Mississippi Lowlands except for Crowley's Ridge.

Status

The lily family used to be a large group with many diverse members, but in recent decades, botanists using DNA analysis have determined that the lily family should be divided into a number of separate families. All the members of the new amaryllis family (including false garlic) were formerly considered members of the lily family.

Human connections

Another name for this plant is "crow poison." It is unknown whether or not this plant is actually poisonous to crows or even to humans, and it's not listed as an edible plant either. It is a good idea not to eat any part of it. Instead, enjoy it for its beauty!

Ecosystem connections

Many different flowers grow in our prairies, and this is one of them. At first glance, a native prairie looks like "just a lot of grass," but as this plant shows, not all are truly grasses. There can be over 200 species of plants in even a small tallgrass prairie.

This is one of Missouri's earliest blooming wildflowers. As such, it is an important nectar source for one of our earliest-emerging butterflies, the falcate orangetip.