Pregnant Onions (What the Heck are They?)

Despite having the moniker, pregnant onions—otherwise known as false sea onions or German onions—aren’t even alliums. They’re neither related to onion nor garlic. Rather, this interesting bulbous plant is more closely related to asparagus and hyacinth!

A pregnant onion is a perennial bulb that has long strap-like green leaves developing in a rosette arrangement. Each plant can produce hundreds of small and fragrant dual-toned flowers from late spring to early fall. It is a rare flowering houseplant that’s gaining popularity among plant lovers.

Now that we have all of that out of the way, why are they even named pregnant onions? Well, a quick glance at it should give you a pretty good clue!

What Do Pregnant Onions Look Like?

Just like what its name suggests, this magnificent plant bears an amazing resemblance to regular onions. The “pregnant” part of its common name can be attributed to the bulblets it forms.

Unlike onions though, the bulb of a pregnant onion plant is typically bright green. But as its outermost skin starts drying up, it may look like a white onion.

What Pregnant Onions Look Like
What Pregnant Onions Look Like

Give it a good look! Its leaves are broad and also pretty long, tapering at the tips. You can expect one plant to have 5–12 leaves that can reach up to 40 inches (100 cm) in length!

The pregnant onion plant is native to Africa. You’ll find wild specimens of it in tight clumps from South Africa all the way to East Africa.

Fun Trivia: Although the scientific name most commonly used when referring to the pregnant onion plants is Albuca bracteata, both Ornithogalum caudatum and Ornithogalum longibracteatum are still used.

Short Care Guide for Pregnant Onion

Surprisingly, pregnant onions are actually quite the fast growers! Provided—of course—that it’s taken care of.

When it comes to potting soil, the pregnant onion like it light and well-draining. A mix of cactus soil mix and peat moss or coco coir would be great for it.

It’s somewhat succulent so try your best not to overwater it. Once a week should be enough Let it dry a bit before watering it again but don’t let it dry out completely as it will go dormant and lose its leaves.

For lighting, give it some direct sun. It likes morning sunlight better than afternoon sunlight as it is likely to burn with prolonged exposure to the latter. Provide it with some shade.

This plant is hardy to zones 9–10, so it does like somewhat warm temperatures. Most importantly, it’s not tolerant of frost. So keep it indoors during the cold winter months.

Do Pregnant Onions Flower?

If you still aren’t impressed, perhaps this interesting fact about it will finally make you want to get your hands on one.

A single pregnant onion can put out up to 300 individual little fragrant flowers with striped white-and-green petals!

Pregnant Onion Flower
Egon Krogsgaard (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Pregnant Onion Flower

These fascinating plants can develop racemes, where you’ll find all their dainty blooms, that are about 36 inches (90 cm) tall.

Blooming Pregnant Onion
Godoy Virginia (cc-by-sa) PlantNet – Blooming Pregnant Onion

You can admire these beauties from May to August. Just don’t expect young pregnant onions to bloom right away.

It’s also worth mentioning that pregnant onion plants do produce fruits. However, they are pretty small, usually no bigger than 0.4 inches (1 cm) in length and diameter.

How Do You Propagate Pregnant Onions?

Know what makes this plant even better? It can live for up to 100 years in total. Plus, the pregnant onion plant can also propagate on its own just fine!

Once the pregnant onion matures, it can continuously produce propagules for over 10 years.

Just carefully separate the bulblets from the mother bulb of your pregnant onion plant and plant them into their own pots. You can also opt to grow them all in a single shallow tray.

Besides that, you can grow pregnant onions from seed—resulting in some variations. Another good option for its propagation is through division. Wait for the bulbils to develop a bit more so you can divide its cute offsets.

Can You Eat a Pregnant Onion?

Overall, pregnant onion plants are considered to be highly toxic. At best, you might get contact dermatitis from touching its sap directly.

If you do make the grave mistake of eating a pregnant onion, it’s best to head straight to the emergency room!

You see, the consumption of any part of a pregnant onion plant can cause organ failures—including the heart, liver, and kidney.

But despite all of these, the pregnant onion seems to be a favorite of the Chacma baboon. Don’t get me wrong though. Most other herbivores steer clear of this poisonous plant.

Some African tribes also use the leaves of pregnant onion plants as a poultice for common ailments like insect stings, sore throat, and rheumatism.


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