Wild Chives

Lovely Chives can be found flowering from May to July. Mullion Cliffs is a good place to spot them.
Photo: Steve Townsend

Scientific name: Allium schoenoprasum

What to look for:

  • Flowers: Cylindrical stem, with a flower head of several purple to pink six-petalled flowers
  • Leaves: Cylinder-shaped and hollow, growing from base of plant
  • Height: Between 15 and 40 cm
  • Where: On calcareous, rocky grasslands or rocky outcrops and cliffs. Grows as a native wild plant in a few areas of the UK, including parts of Cornwall, South Wales and northern England; elsewhere it is more likely to be a garden escape.
  • When: Chives flower from May to July
  • Habit: Upright
  • Similar to: Some other Allium species, but Chives are unmistakeable for their small size and distinctive leaves.

Chives are familiar to us as a beloved and aromatic staple of herb gardens for over two thousand years. But this is also a native wild plant, albeit somewhat rare, growing in a few scattered locations across the country, and the Lizard is one of the key places to find it. Look out for it on rocky turf and thin soils on the serpentine: it likes calcareous habitats.

Related to garlic and onions (and the smallest of the edible onions), this is a bulbous perennial plant. Like Garlic, it has benefits for the circulatory system, but the effects are much weaker, and it is therefore far more widely cultivated for culinary use, and as a pretty ornamental plant. Its juice is supposed to repel garden insect pests, and its flowers are very attractive to pollinators, such as bees.

Did you know…?

…The Romans used Chives to ease the pain of sunburn.

…Hanging bunches of dried Chives in the house was once believed to deter disease.


More information and references:

Mabey, R., 1997. Flora Britannica. Chatto & Windus, London.

Rose, F. and O’Reilly, C., 2006. The Wild Flower Key, 2nd edition. Frederick Warne, London.

Stace, C., 2010. New Flora of the British Isles, 3rd edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Published: May 2014
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Steve Townsend