Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 723 Allium sativum

Common Names: garlic, softneck garlic, hardneck garlic, rocambole Family: Amaryllidaceae (amaryllis Family)

This 'Korean Red' garlic is almost ready to harvest.


Garlic plants are closely related to and similar to onions and they have a similar, but stronger odor. The leaves of garlic plants are neither inflated like onion leaves nor tubular like those of bunching onions. Instead, they are flat, with a crease down the middle and are held erect in two opposite ranks. Most varieties stand about 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) tall at maturity. Garlic plants produce an underground bulb that usually is divisible into 6-20 segments, called cloves. There are more than two dozen varieties of typical or "softneck" garlic listed in Cornucopia II.

Hardneck garlic (a.k.a. rocambole, top-setting garlic, and serpent garlic) is Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon. It produces a flower stalk that coils like a snake, then straightens out and bears clusters of pea-sized bulblets or "bulbils" that are like miniature garlic bulbs.

freshly harvested garlic
These freshly dug garlic bulbs will be placed in a cool shady spot to dry.


Garlic, Allium sativum is not known from the wild but probably was derived from Allium longicuspis, which is native to central Asia. Garlic has been cultivated for more than 5000 years.


Light: Garlic will do best in full sun but can be grown with satisfactory results in partial shade. Moisture: Garlic can tolerate periods without rain, but best results come from plants that receive regular watering. Hardiness: USDA Zones 4 - 11. Garlic is grown as an annual, started from cloves broken out of the bulb. Garlic is best planted in the fall and allowed to overwinter in the ground, to be harvested the following summer. In mild climates garlic will grow all winter; in cold climates areas, it will go dormant in the winter, and should be mulched. Propagation: Garlic almost never produces fertile seeds. It must be propagated vegetatively. Divide garlic bulbs into individual cloves and plant them, flattened end down, about 2-3 in (5-7.6 cm) deep and 3-4 in (7.6-10 cm) apart. Rocambole can be started from cloves or from the little bulblets that are produced on the top of the looping stem, but the cloves grow faster.


Harvest garlic and rocambole when the tops fall over and turn brown. Dry the bulbs (but not in direct sun) for a week, then store in a dark, dry area, or braid the still-attached stems for a decorative and edible wreath. Bulbs to be saved for later planting can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 8 months.

Rocambole bulbils as well as the bulbs are used in the same was as garlic. In addition, the immature flower shoots, called garlic spears, are a delicacy in the Far East, and the young leaves can be used like chives. Many consider rocambole to be more flavorful than regular garlic, but it is harder to grow, and usually the bulbs are smaller, and they have a shorter storage life.

For a real taste sensation, try baking or roasting whole garlic bulbs until soft and creamy.

garlic bulb
A garlic bulb is composed of segments called cloves.


Garlic is the strongest flavored member of the onion family. Protection from vampires is just one of the many uses of garlic. Until quite recently, most civilizations used it medicinally and only their poor people ate it, while the priests and upper class citizens scorned its strong odor.

Garlic contains compounds that are antibacterial, antifungal and reduce blood clotting. In order for the active ingredient that gives garlic its characteristic odor and its therapeutic effects to be released, the garlic clove must be cut or crushed. This releases an enzyme that causes the formation of allicin, the component responsible for garlic's odor and medicinal activity.

Some authorities place the onions, garlics, leeks and their relatives in a family of their own, the Alliaceae, and others put them in the lily family, the Liliaceae. There are about 400 species in the genus Allium, including some magnificent ornamentals. Well known members of the genus include: onions (A. cepa), bunching or green onions (A. fistulosum), chives (A. schoenoprasum), garlic chives (A. tuberosum), and A. ampeloprasum, which is divided into three horticultural groups: The Porrum Group includes leeks, grown for their stems; the Ampeloprasum Group includes elephant garlic, grown for its large, mild garlic-like bulb; and the Kurrat Group includes kurrat, a small plant grown for its leaves and rarely seen outside Egypt and the Middle East.

Steve Christman 5/21/00; updated 9/13/03

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Allium species profiled on Floridata:

Allium cepa Cepa Group

( onion, bulbing onion )

Allium fistulosum

( scallion, green onion, bunching onion, ciboule )

Allium giganteum

( giant onion )

Allium sativum

( garlic, softneck garlic, hardneck garlic, rocambole )

Allium schoenoprasum

( chive, cive )

Allium tuberosum

( garlic chives, Chinese leeks, Chinese chives, flat chives )

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