For quite some time, I was not able to tell what was being grown inside a trough. The plants in there were grown by one of my community gardeners. It appears grassy and when the hollow leaves were injured, they emited an onion-like odour. That pointed me that it could be a species of Allium. Interestingly, the leaves are not round in cross-section! They seem to be flatter on one side.
However, I thought it was a failed attempt to grow plants from the Allium genus as many are known not to thrive under our tropical climate. The plants never grew too tall and most of the time, the leaves never stood erect. The diameter of the leaves also never grew thicker as well. Neither did the plant appear to increase in clump size. All such observations seem to suggest it is a stunted Allium.
In the morning two days ago, I was surprised to see a recently harvested bunch of onion-like plants placed at one corner of the washing area in my community garden. I asked what it was and my community gardener who grew it told me its Chinese name, which was called “乔头” (qiao tou). The bulbs were white and small; they were about 3 cm in diameter and each plant has several bulbs clustered at the base.
I did some research on this Allium plant and found its botanical name, which is Allium chinese. From the PROSEA database, this plant is documented to be native to central and eastern China and is widely grown in China and Japan and to a limited extent in South-East Asia. It is known by its English name as “Rakkyo”, which sounds more like Japanese to me.
I also now recall that these are the white little bulbs that are sold in the supermarkets as pickles! Surprisingly, also documented in the PROSEA database, this plant has important medicinal properties, the bulbs are of interest in the prevention of thrombosis. They are used for the treatment of heart failures in Chinese medicine. Rakkyo is also used against fever, stomachache and eye infections.
The plants do not produce seeds and are propagated by bulb division. When I asked where my community gardener got the plant, she told me she bought it from Cameron Highlands in Malaysia many, many years ago. To ensure a continuous crop, she divides several small bulbs from an uprooted clump and then plants them singly into the trough of soil again. Several small bulbs will be obtained from each of these bulbs that were planted.