Note: this website is written for Australian readers, and as an accessory to our book Let’s Eat Weeds: A Kid’s Guide to Foraging (available below). If you’re viewing it from elsewhere you may have other look-alike plants in your area, so check local guides.
first off – let’s look at the real angled onion
If you’ve read Let’s Eat Weeds you’ll know that angled onion (scientific name: Allium triquetrum) makes for a tasty salad plant with a sweet garlicky flavour. It grows in the colder months of the year, and it likes wetter areas – it loves banks of creeks – in the southern half of Australia. It has been found as far north as Brisbane, but it’s less common there and in other warmer parts.
When it’s young it can be hard to tell (until you get your eye in) from grass! In winter – before it flowers – it looks like this:
The smell of angled onion is really strong though. Squeeze it and you’ll know what we mean – like raw garlic. It’s powerful. It’s vampires-look-at-their-shoes-and-call-you-‘maam’-or-‘sir’ level powerful.
It’s flowers start to appear in late winter and spring, and then it looks more like this:
Let’s look at those flowers more closely…
Notice six petals with nice green lines down the middle of each. The flowers tend to hang like bells towards the ground.
If you break a flower stem in half you’ll notice that it’s very triangular in cross section. The leaves also have a pointy midrib and when broken you can see that they are a bit triangular too. This is where it gets its name ‘angled’ onion from.
Ok, but there are other plants that can look a bit like grass and have white flowers too, so let’s take a look.
false onion weed
False onion weed (scientific name: Nothoscordum borbonicum) tends to grow in the same states of Australia as angled onion, but usually in dryer places. Sometimes you’ll find both plants in the same backyard though. It doesn’t smell much, but it does have a hint of an almost-oniony smell, only not in a nice way. This is false onion-weed:
It doesn’t look as lush and juicy as angled onion. The flower stems are thinner, harder and longer. We’ll talk about their shape in a minute but let’s first take a closer look at the flowers:
The flowers of false onion weed do look a bit similar to angled onion’s, but they tend to point upwards, not down. And they don’t have that green line in the middle of each petal.
The flower stem of false onion weed is round instead of triangular in cross section. The leaves are more like straps, without that ridge along the midrib.
False onion weed is not considered a poisonous plant and some people even eat the bulbs that it forms in the soil, although we’ve never tried it.
snowflakes (also called snowdrops)
Rather than being a weed, snowflakes (scientific name: Leucojum aestivum) are planted in the garden for their flowers. They are not edible (but they probably aren’t especially poisonous either). While they are a ‘look-alike’ they definitely aren’t a ‘smell-alike’ so luckily we don’t think anyone would mix them up for long.
Snowflakes also grow in similar parts of Australia as angled onion. You can see how you might think at first glance that you’d found an angled onion:
If you look closely though, you’ll see differences.
Snowflakes has little green dots on each petal rather than stripes. Like false onion weed, it has a round flower stem and strappy leaves without the ridge along the midrib. And like we said, it doesn’t smell like onion or garlic at all. (Florists are probably happy about that!)
So those are the main ones we think you might confuse for angled onion. There could be others but really if you look for the triangular shaped leaves and flower stem, and that strong garlic smell, you’ll have found angled onion!
See more photos in our weeds gallery.
Answer: false onion weed on the left, angled onion on the right.
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