Chinese Chives in the Season of Seeds

October 5, 2017

Several years ago, when we were looking at our present home with thoughts of perhaps purchasing it, I noticed some Chinese chives (Allium tuberosum, nira in Japanese) growing in a flower bed.  They are not commonly cultivated in central Maine and I commented to one of the owners that I was glad to see them there.  An ethnic Chinese who had immigrated from Vietnam to Maine, the owner smiled politely, but also winced a little, a signal to me that there was something not one hundred percent positive about these plants.

After we bought the house and settled in, I was happy with the Chinese chives.  They emerge early each spring and, along with dandelion greens and Western chives, are always the first homegrown bounty we enjoy in the new growing season.  Plus, they keep on contributing to our dinners through the summer until late August when they produce an impressive mass of white flower clusters each cluster growing onion-family fashion at the tip of a tall, leafless stalk.

I did come to learn, however, what it is about these plants that probably made the former owner grimace; they propagate aggressively, both by underground rhizome and, more significantly, by seed.  The seeds can scatter far and wide and once a new plant takes root, it can be very hard to dig it up.

Their robust success at propagation did not make me stop liking these plants—on the contrary, I find their vigor reassuring—but it did prompt me to establish the habit of deadheading the flowers each fall before the seeds completely mature.

One hundred bold stalks,
nine thousand green pods of  life—
Chinese chives in fall.

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