793 Tulbaghia violaceaCommon Names: society garlic, pink agapanthus Family: Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis Family)
Society garlic is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial with narrow, grayish green leaves and large clusters of lavender or lilac flowers. The plant looks like an especially showy garlic or garlic chives plant. Society garlic has just 4-9 grasslike leaves, each about a foot long and a half-inch wide. The leaves grow straight up out of a swollen underground rhizome that looks like a corm or bulb. A single 2 ft (0.6 m) scape (flowering stalk) grows up from the center of the rosette of leaves. Atop the scape sits a large umbel (flower cluster in which all the pedicels (flower stems) originate from the same point) of sweet-scented lilac-pink flowers. The flowers are tubular, expanding to six pointed stars at their ends. They are a little less than an inch long and wide, and there are 8-20 of the dainty little flowers in each umbel. The blossoms are produced sporadically from early summer until late autumn. The leaves and rhizomes of society garlic smell like garlic, but the flowers are sweet, smelling like hyacinths, and some people say they are too sweet! The cultivar, 'Silver Lace' (a.k.a. 'Variegata') has larger flowers and leaves with cream stripes. 'Tricolor' has pink and white variegations.
Society garlic, Tulbaghia violacea is native to Natal, Transvaal and the eastern Cape region in South Africa where it grows in rocky grasslands.
CultureSociety garlic is easy to grow in light, sandy soils. Light: Society garlic does best in full sun. Plants will grow well in shade, but may not flower much. Indoor plants should be kept in the brightest light possible. Moisture: Water society garlic frequently during the growing season, less frequently during flowering, and reduce watering during the winter resting period to just enough to keep the rootball from completely drying out. At any stage, established plants can survive extended droughts if they have to. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 - 10. Society garlic tolerates moderate frosts and light freezes down to 20º F (-6.7º C) or so. Propagation: Propagate society garlic by dividing off pieces of rhizome while the plant is dormant.
Society garlic is a popular container plant. Most gardeners leave it out on the patio or porch all summer, bringing it indoors for the winter. Outdoors, grow in a sunny border. This is a perennial that will spread slowly by its rhizomes, but will not become aggressive. Society garlic can be used in the front of a herbaceous border, and South African gardeners often use it as a bedding plant along with annual flowers. Society garlic is used in rock gardens, too. Flowers are most fragrant at night. The bulbs and leaves are edible and can be used like garlic and garlic chives. It is reported that society garlic, planted in a row or border, will deter moles.
The name, "society garlic" comes from the assumption that, although it tastes like garlic, you don't get bad breath from eating it. Hmmmmm. There are a couple dozen species of Tulbaghia in South Africa. Some authorities split the huge Amaryllidaceae family into several smaller families, and include Tulbaghia, along with the onions and garlics (genus Allium), in the family Alliaceae.
Steve Christman 8/23/00; updated 9/1/02, 8/9/03, 12/9/06