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What is a Pregnant Onion?

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  • Written By: Susan Grindstaff
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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The pregnant onion is a plant that is originally from South Africa, but is adaptable to many other climate types. It is a popular plant in North America and Europe, both as an indoor houseplant and in outdoor gardens. The scientific name of the plant is Ornithogalum longibracteatum, but it probably came to be called the pregnant onion because of its big round shape and the fact that as it grows, it shoots out tiny little bulbs around its base. Pregnant onion plants produce small fragrant flowers that are usually white or yellow, with green stripes going down the middle of the flower petals. Though new plants sometimes produce these flowers, flowering usually occurs when the plants are about three years old.

Growing pregnant onion plants is considered fairly easy, as they are typically hardy plants that do not require much care. They are succulents, similar to cactus plants, and do not need frequent watering. In fact, it is recommended to let the soil around the plant completely dry out before watering.

They can tolerate excessive sun, but generally do best when sun exposure is somewhat limited. For these plants, overexposure to sun is rare, but it can eventually scorch the leaves. If browning of the leaves occurs, it may be advisable to move the plant to an area that receives only partial sun.

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When planting the pregnant onion, soil should be chosen based on moisture content. The drier the soil, the better it is for the plant. Pregnant onion plants usually cannot survive in marshy, wet soil. If dry growing conditions are not available in the outdoor garden, it is probably a good idea to grow the plant indoors, where moisture can be easily controlled.

Pregnant onion plants can be grown outdoors in most climates, but should not be exposed to freezing temperatures. If attempting to grow the plant in colder climates, the plants should be re-potted as indoor plants during winter months. During the winter, the plants typically die off, but will come back up on their own in the spring. During their new growth, all dead leaves should be carefully removed.

Not really a true onion, the pregnant onion should not be eaten. The bulbs of both plants are somewhat alike, but that is pretty much where the similarities end. Pregnant onions are considered toxic, and some people may be allergic to their leaves. Allergic reactions to the plant typically include rash and itching.

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