Sunday, September 02, 2007

Garlic Chives

What’s blooming in the area: Apache plume, roses, trumpet creeper, silver lace vine, honeysuckle, canna, datura, silver-leaf nightshade, bindweed, Heavenly Blue morning glory, purple phlox, bigleaf globemallow, bouncing Bess, white sweet clover, perennial sweet pea, goat’s head, yellow and white evening primrose, velvetweed, toothed spurge, purslane, lamb’s quarter, Russian thistle, stickleaf, pigweed, heliopsis, broom snakeweed, chamisa, winterfat, Tahokia daisy, French marigolds, Maximilian and native sunflowers, goldenrod, horseweed, hawkweed, wild lettuce, golden, heath and purple asters.

What’s blooming in my garden, looking north: Golden spur columbine, hartwegii, chocolate flower, blanket flower, coreopsis, Mexican hat, black-eyed Susan, yellow cosmos.

Looking east: Floribunda rose, hosta, garlic chives, large-leaf soapwort, sweet alyssum, winecup, hollyhock, sidalcea, larkspur, scarlet flax, California and Shirley poppies, pink bachelor buttons, African marigolds; raspberries ready to eat.

Looking south: Rose of Sharon, Crimson Rambler morning glory, sedum, Sensation cosmos, zinnia.

Looking west: Caryopteris, buddleia, Russian sage, catmint, leadplant, flax, ladybells, David phlox peaked, purple ice plant, Silver King artemisia, Monch aster.

Bedding plants: Sweet alyssum, snapdragons, petunia, Dahlberg daisy; more Sweet 100 tomatoes ripening every day.

Inside: Aptenia, zonal geranium.

Animal sightings: Quail, hummingbirds, baby gecko, bees, grasshoppers, ants, squash bug, dragonfly; gopher active again.

Weather: More days passed with futile clouds, thunder and wind; Thursday and today the ground was wet in the morning for the first time since August 6, but plants continue to kill off their leaves to survive the dry spell.

Weekly update: Roses love garlic, or so the old folks say.

In her pioneering collection of folk usages and companion plant combinations, Louise Riotte suggested garlic planted near roses helps fight black spot. In a followup book, Bob Flowerdew repeated that recommendation and added the aroma of the one increases the perfume of the other. Website contributors believe garlic also discourages aphids.

Riotte was more definitive about the benefits of an organic spray made from crushed garlic. Biologists have established the bulb contains an antibacterial non-protein amino acid, allicin. However, the chemical exists in cells as alliin which only converts to allicin when the tissue is damaged. Researchers have also found that oil, almost any oil, enhances the effectiveness of the extract in water.

Scientists are more skeptical about the benefits of passive companionship. Entomologists in Kentucky found garlic chives did nothing to attract or deter Japanese beetles. However, Hsiu-chen Cheng found the same plant increased the number and variety of micoorganisms in soil tainted by PCB’s.

Fortunately, I hoped garlic would solve a simpler problem, the bareness of the wind scourged land above my retaining wall where only pigweed and Russian thistle volunteer. I also tried chives, scallions, onions, and Welsh onions, even Dutch clover, anything that would provide a green cover. Nothing survived a year, although clover and scallions each succeeded one, unrepeatable summer.

My roses have to settle for garlic chives for companionship, because they are the only plants that replenished themselves. The seeds fell from the retaining wall into the bed below where the floribunda Fashion grows protected in a corner with winecup mallows. This year, those blooming stalks are 28" tall, while the seedlings in the original bed are only 16".

The various Alliums are not as interchangeable as I’d hoped, although most contain some alliin. Even those with untrained palates know garlic, onions, and chives taste differently. Garlic chives, also called Chinese chives or Allium tuberosum, are more common in Asian cooking and gardens where, Penny Woodward says, they are cropped with spinach, lettuce, and pak choi.

What specifically separates garlic chive from the other Alliums within the lily family is fairly obvious to those of us who only look at plants. Garlic chive flower heads are larger than those of chives, and white instead of purple. They’re blooming now, instead of early summer. The leaves are flat like garlic, not round like chives or onion, and the entire plant is smaller than garlic or onion, but larger than chives.

Botanists need to go father and isolate binary distinctions. So far, they’ve failed to produce a definitive classification scheme. The Allium genera evolved early. After species separated, members in different lineages made the same adaptions, so now cellular characteristics are shared across evolutionary lines. Garlic chives and chives share five mutations, but are rarely grouped together. Garlic has apparently reverted back to the bulb form of its ancestors. They’ve all lost genome content.

Taxonomy is not my concern, but the bare spot above my retaining wall still is. Alliums are not the answer. However, nature’s decision to salvage the garlic chives has had an unanticipated aesthetic benefit. The five-petaled florets that surround my coral roses look like baby’s breath from a distance, and a bit like sweet alyssum from above. Companionship in beauty, not utility, is enough for me to hope they’ll naturalize there.

Cheng, Hsiu-chen. The Study of Phytoremediation of PCP Contaminated Soil, 2005.

Flowerdew, Bob. Good Companions, 1991.

Havey, M. J. "Phylogenetic Relationships among Cultivated Allium Species from Restriction Enzyme Analysis of the Chloroplast Genome," Theoretical and Applied Genetics 81:752-757:1991.

Held, D. W., P. Gonsiska, and D. A. Potter. "Evaluating Companion Planting and Non-host Masking Odors for Protecting Roses from the Japanese Beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae)," Journal of Economic Entomology 96,:81–87:2003.

Obagwuand, J. and L. Korsten. "Control of Citrus Green and Blue Molds with Garlic Extracts," European Journal of Plant Pathology 109:221-225:2003, discuses utility of oil.

Riotte, Louise. Roses Love Garlic, 1983.

Skorová, Eva, Jií Fajkus, Marie Mezníková, Kar Yoong Lim, Kamila Neplechová, Frank R. Blattner, Mark W. Chase and Andrew R. Leitch. "Minisatellite Telomeres Occur in the Family Alliaceae but are Lost in Allium," American Journal of Botany 93:814-823:2006.

Van Wyk, Ben-Erik and Michael Wink, Medicinal Plants of the World, 2004, discusses amino acids.

Woodward, Penny. Garlic and Friends, 1996.

Photograph: Garlic chives and Fashion floribunda rose, 1 September 2007.

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