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What is Society Garlic?

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  • Written By: Alex Tree
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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Society garlic is a perennial plant scientifically known as Tulbaghia violacea. Its common name is derived from the plant’s distinct garlic-like taste. The gray-green stalk of this plant normally grows to height of around 2 feet (0.6 m). Its slender leaves of the same color can reach a length of 1 foot (0.3 m). When mature, the plant’s flowers are light purple, often nearly white in some areas.

Blooming sporadically from early summer to fall, the flowers resemble spring blossoms. These flowers grow in clusters of eight to 20 and are a little less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) long. Each flower has six petals, resembling a six-pointed star. When young, the plant's flowers can be pink-white rather than the standard purple. At any age, society garlic flowers are quite tough, usually capable of remaining intact even during frequent and heavy rainstorms.

This plant hails from several regions of South Africa, including the eastern Cape and Transvaal. Society garlic prefers mild to tropical weather, but it can survive light freezes and some frost in temperatures around 20 ºF (-6.7 ºC). It is recommended, however, to bring the plant indoors during winter and water it infrequently, as the winter season is its resting period. On the other hand, extremely hot and humid weather coupled with short droughts is rarely a problem for this flowering plant when mature.

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Propagating this species can be done by dividing one plant into several clumps and replanting them. A gardener can also divide and replant the rhizomes, the horizontal stems of the plant usually found just below ground level. If the plant is too fragile or young to divide, society garlic seeds are widely available in both brick-and-mortar garden stores and Internet shops. In all cases, placing new society garlic plants is best done in early spring. During the growing season, society garlic should be watered frequently.

Society garlic has both culinary and butterfly gardening uses. In the kitchen, the bulbs and leaves of the plant are sometimes used to replace garlic chives. For some, the taste is similar to garlic, but doesn’t give a strong aftertaste and bad breath. In the garden, the plant’s fragrant flowers can attract butterflies, and it is often considered an easy plant to grow for such purposes. Society garlic is not picky about its whereabouts and can be planted in rock gardens, indoor containers, or even in floating containers on ponds.

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