Can an onion save your life? — Maybe.

Decades ago I came across a strange looking onion plant.  It was about 3 feet tall and had a stiff stem with numerous little onion sets (bulbils) growing at the top.  

There was someone with me, although I don’t remember who. But she mentioned as we walked past the plant that the little onion sets at the top were good to pickle.

I was starting to grow bulbing onions at the time and was not the least bit interested in growing little onions to pickle. So I didn’t ask for, want,  or receive any additional information on the plant. (Shame on me.)   And due to ignorance of the facts about this onion, I totally ignored it for decades. 

Several years ago I received a few free bulbils with something else I ordered.  Planted them and promptly forgot them.  Most likely they were harvested as spring onions.

Fortunately this year I accidentally discovered a website that awakened me to the immeasurable value of this onion and information needed to be successful in growing them.  I’ll give you the link at the end of the post.

What it Looks Like and its Various Names

In the picture below organic and non-gmo”Allium proliferum” (the scientific name) grows in a field in Washington state. Tracy, the grower, calls this the candlestick stage. The little white papery sacks house the sets that are forming.

A special thank you to Tracy for granting permission for me to use her photo.

They’re a type of multiplying onions.

Depending on where you live they’re also commonly known as  walking onions, Egyptian onions, the Medusa onion, topset onions, tree onions,  winter onions or perennial onions.

Why are they of value?

  • They’re Perennial

They’re a perennial onion!  Yippee! That means they’ll live in my garden all year long.  (Tracy said she’s had them survive temperatures of -24ºF below zero!)

  • They Multiply Underground

The onion growing underground will multiply and can produce 6 to 10 more onions at the base of the plant. Harvest all but one.  Leave that to multiply again for more onions. (Or move one to another place to start another clump.)

  • The bulbils can grow and produce more plants.

Bulbils that form on top of the stiff stalk in late spring or early summer can range from 1/4 inch to 1 inch in diameter. They reach maturity in late summer.  If left to fall over and touch the ground, they’ll root and grow where they fall.

Or – you can harvest them and plant in another bed.

Or – you can pickle them.

  • Once you have them started – you’ll have them indefinitely – so that’s one thing you won’t have to buy.

Things to note about topsets

*** It’s my understanding from various other sources that topsets don’t store well. And one source mentioned that if they dry out – they won’t grow. In my opinion it would be best to plant while the sets are fresh. But if you have to hold them be sure to read the information Tracy provides.

(And yes, I’ll provide the link at the end of the post.)

***Larger bulbils (the topsets) have a better chance of producing a plant that will produce topsets its first year.  It’s likely that topsets will be produced by most of the new plants in their second year.

My Suggestion for Planting Depth

In Tracy’s information she recommends planting bulbils at a depth of 2 inches. My guess is it’s because of the cold winters in Washington state. (Colder temperatures usually require deeper planting depths for alliums.)

Here in Virginia I plant my bulbing onions, my potato onions, my garlic, and my shallots at a depth of 1 inch.

When I plant the bulbils I ordered from Tracy I’l plant some at 2 inches as she recommended and some at 1 inch. I’ll do this just as a precaution but I feel confident 1 inch will be just fine here in Virginia.

So – How Could This Onion Possibly Save Someone’s Life?

It’s hard for most Americans to imagine what it’s like not to have food to eat and not be able to get any.  And it’s hard for most of us to even entertain the thought that severe food shortages will most likely be experienced throughout the United States.

But if you’ve been listening to sources that tell you the truth about what’s happening in our country – being hungry is something that you and your family could well experience unless you take steps to prepare.

Knowing how to grow your food can make a big difference. But even then,  growing seasons in most places don’t last that long.

It “could” make a big difference to have something in the garden that you could harvest all winter – especially if the ground is not frozen.

Onions are very nutritious and provide many things our bodies need.

If you’ve educated yourself on what it takes to live through a survival situation – you might welcome this perennial onion into your garden as a part of your plan to make it through whatever comes.

If you’re well prepared this perennial will only enhance what you have on hand.  If you’re not well prepared — it could keep you alive.

The website I found and the link to it I promised

The young woman who grows these onions has provided a wealth of information on her website.  And what I love most about that is it’s from her own experience.

I urge you to take advantage of what she’s made available to you through her website.  https://www.egyptianwalkingonion.com

Final Thought

Tracy was kind enough to give me permission to use the picture at the beginning of the post of her beautiful onions in the candlestick phase.

I’m always interested in how people find my site. Thus, if you decide to order bulbils from Tracy, I’m sure she too would appreciate knowing how you found her.  And I’m delighted you can tell her you found her via TendingMyGarden.com.


All content including photos is copyright by TendingMyGarden.com. All Rights Reserved.


  • I’ve heard of these and as usual your comments put the brain in gear. Found some in Canada and away we go.

    Always happy gardening

    Ray Kent

  • Awesome. I ordered walking onion seeds from a guy in Kansas last year. The seeds had a terrible germination rate, but I think I got 2 plants to grow. Since they were from seed, I didn’t really have any onions but I did see the plants seem to separate before the end of the season. I just left them in the ground and am keeping my fingers crossed that they will grow this year and multiply. I’m always looking for ways to provide food for myself (especially storage crops). Onions, potatoes and other root crops are the ticket for sure. Another amazing plant I’ve found is parsnips! If you let one of them go to seed (they go to seed the second year) the seeds drop and they literally come up *everywhere*! They require very little work, they seem to be resilient when it comes to insects and disease (thought the sticky flowers do attract aphids) and they store for ages in the ground and out of the ground. Thanks, as always, for you contribution to food security! I agree… we *must* grow at least some of our own food.

  • Theresa, I’ve had these onions in my garden for years. At one point they got a little invasive and I had to thin them out. I’ve given away dozens of clumps of them and even have them growing wild in the woods. I bought the original plant at a plant sale for $1.00. They have repaid me many times over. Hope all is well with you.


  • I was looking for information on winter sowing and found you….and promptly subscribed. I really enjoyed reading about your life. People interest me….their life stories I take to heart.
    Thank you for sharing this post about walking onions as I have heard so much about them and wanted to get some seed.
    Thanks again for sharing all of this very necessary information. You are right, everyone should be prepared to go without food. I was led to start a farm 20 years ago and have had to drag my husband, kicking and screaming, along on this journey. Thankfully, he really enjoyed all the pickles and pickled peppers from the garden last year so no complaints.
    Really nice to ‘meet’ you, Theresa!

  • Even if they don’t store well, you can store them by freezing or drying them.

    I’m replying to Abigail at the end of her comment so my note won’t be missed by readers. Here’s my reply:

    Hey Abigail,

    Nice to hear from you. It’s been a while.

    I may have been unclear in the post under the heading of “Things to Note About Topsets”. So I was especially glad for your comment.

    I mentioned, “if they dry out – they won’t grow.”
    Thus, I was speaking of replanting the topsets – as opposed to using them to cook with.
    I understand that if someone wants to keep them for cooking they could freeze some or dry them.

    Readers who want a ton of information will find it helpful to read the Home page and the order page at Tracy’s site: https://www.egyptianwalkingonion.com/

    Thanks Abigail! It was great hearing from you.

  • I got a few bulbils from someone 15 years ago and have so many that like Danita I have to thin them every few years. They just flop over every year and the bulbils root and start a new patch. That’s why they’re called walking onions. Every once in a while someone here in Utah will find a patch that was planted on old abandoned homesteads. I mostly pickle the biggest bulbils; I know I sent you (Theresa) a jar years ago and you weren’t sure what you thought of them!

  • Ray, I was delighted you’re gonna try the walking onions. Hope they will be mild enough for you.
    I’ll be anxious to learn how you think they compare to Alisa Craig.

    You mentioned that you started from seed. That might be quite an accomplishment to get seeds from those onions.
    I’m thinking the seed has to be produced from flowers. And although the walking onions sometimes produce flowers it’s not often.
    On the website (https://www.egyptianwalkingonion.com/) under the heading “Flowers” it states that the seed is a rarity.
    That made me wonder if it was really the seed of a walking onion that the fellow sent to you.

    I guess you will find out this coming growing season.
    Hope you’ll let me know.

    I’ve never liked parsnips, but after reading how they reseed and come up everywhere, I think I definitely want them in my garden — even if only for backup.
    Really liked too that they store well in the ground or out.

    Thank for sharing Rob.

    I hope my onions will do as wonderfully as yours.
    As many onions as I use in a year — none will be wasted.

    I’ll definitely thin out clumps every year to keep the onions larger.

    Love it that you bought the original plant for just $1.
    That was one great buy Danita!

    Welcome to TMG Jamie! I’m glad you subscribed and I hope you will find TMG very helpful.

    In addition to gardening, I share a lot of life’s experiences with my readers. So I’m glad you’ve already enjoyed reading some of that.

    I’d love to know more about how you were led to start a farm 20 years ago. Am very curious about how big it is and what you grow.

    I can imagine how delicious those homemade pickles and pickled peppers were. But I hope you and your husband had more than the pickled cukes and peppers to enjoy.

    You mentioned you found TMG when looking for information about winter sowing. Keep in mind that the so called “official” winter-sown in a nut shell is

    ** fill the jug bottoms (or whatever container you decide on) with grow mix and moisten it
    **plant the seed in the jug (or other container) bottom
    **secure the top to the bottom
    **remove the cap
    ** leave out side to germinate when conditions are right

    In almost every situation I adapt this basic method to suit my special needs in any given situation.. So actually all those posts should have indicated that they’re my adaptations of a simple method. (Wish I had realized that when I wrote all of those posts.)

    I sure appreciate your commenting Jamie. And it’s nice to meet you too!

    If I said I wasn’t sure about what I thought of those pickled onions you sent me a 2 or 3 years ago, it was because I hadn’t tasted them yet.

    I remember getting to the last one and being very sorry that I had not rationed them more. They were great.

    Loved the story about folks in Utah finding patches
    of this onion in old abandoned homesteads.

    Hope my onions will be as prolific as yours and Danita’s.


  • I’ll bet you are right Theresa! I have a feeling I didn’t get the real thing judging by what I read on the site (should have done more research, the guy might have just been calling the seeds “walking onion seed”). Darn. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens this spring. When I heard about these last year I searched far and wide to find a provider and they are always sold out. And that’s still the case. Haha. If I remember, I’ll let you know what happens with my fake walking onions.

  • Looks like Tracy probably lives somewhere in the part of WA where I grew up. My parents had some of these growing at their old place, I’m not sure if they do still at the new one.

    Haven’t been up on your posts much lately since I am still renting and don’t have any good place for a garden. Keep hoping I’ll get enough put together for a down payment on a place but the economy being rough makes that difficult too. We’ll see.

    Glad to see you’re still around and posting, though. <3

  • Nice to hear from you Anna.
    Sure hope you’ll be able to have a place soon to garden.
    Is your situation such that you would have a place to put a few pots.
    Even growing some lettuce and/or a tomato and cuke would be grand!
    Keep in touch. I’ll be excited for you when you get a place to garden.

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