Ornithogalum (Ever Pregnant or Pregnant Onion)


Ornithogalum thyrsoides is a name that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue like, say, rose.  It is bulbous plant and has its origin is Europe and South Africa. The entire ornithogalum varieties flower with star-like blooms, some clustering along the top half of an upright stem and some creating umbrella or candelabra forms.

The Ornithogalum longebracteatum, known in common language as the Pregnant Onion plant, is a species of Ornithogalum which is often grown as a houseplant, or outdoors as an ornamental in warmer climates. It is very hard to kill. It likes a lot of water. Is called a "pregnant onion" because it makes little "babies" on the side of its bulb which can then be potted and grown into entire pregnant onion plants.

Growing information: The Pregnant Onion is a very easy plant to grow. All it needs is an occasional watering, because it is a water succulent plant.  The plants may be brought inside during winter. These plants are hardy and can withstand low temperatures 25°F (-4°C), but they can perish if they are in the cold for too long.  This plant is resilient against pests and disease.  Scales is the only known disease that can affect the Pregnant Onion.

Flowers: It has tiny white, sometimes yellow, flowers that have a green stripe down the center.  They flower on a stalk that juts up from the center of the bulb.  It is said that these flowers have a fragrance. Don't expect your plant to flower right away unless it is an older plant.  From my experience, I have found that with proper care and patients, you green lady will bloom. 

Sunlight and Watering: Even though the Pregnant Onion is a resilient plant; it is a plant nonetheless and can become smothered if left in direct sun without water for too long.  This could be the case if they are in desert regions.  Pregnant Onions seem to do best in an area that has some shade but exposure to the sun.  A north or east facing window or side of a building would be an example.  They would receive the morning sun and into the afternoon they are sheltered from the more direct sunlight.  So you say to yourself, “I don't want my onions to dry out so I'll water them every day.”  This is not the best way to go.  Because they are a water succulent plant, they do not need watering everyday, so do not over water them.  They store up water and ration it off as time goes by.  This is a characteristic feature of plants that live in arid conditions, like cactus.  They have, under outer skin, a fleshy, water-storing tissue that acts as water reservoirs for the plant.  The need watering every 3-4 days. Some people water them when the skin becomes soft and wrinkly.  After watering, the bulb swells up smooth and green.

Soil: In most cases, if you are starting out with new bulbs, it would be a good idea to plant them in potting soil.  Potting soil is rich in nutrients that your Pregnant Onion will need.  Now, if your plant comes with soil already with it, by all means use that soil.  It will be use to the original soil.  By keeping it in the soil that she came in, you reduce the chance that the plant will go into shock. If you are planting in potting soil, you might want to mix it with a little compost manure and a small amount of sharp sand.  The potting soil and manure is for supply nutrients and the sand is used to help drain the excess water out of the bottom of the pot.  You don't want excess at the bottom of the pot because the bulb will store the water and can become waterlogged.  If garden planting is your thing, then do the same as you would do in a pot; add manure and sand?  When you do plant outside, make sure that your bulb is in a well protected area.  The more ideal the environment is for a young bulb, the longer it will live.  The major difference comes with the change of the seasons.  You'll need to mulch the ground in cold weather.  Remember, this plant is native to South Africa and isn't best adapted to the cold.

Transplanting and Pruning: You can prune the leaves if you desire.  The leaves do have a tendency to die off after time.  This is because the bulb is growing and the old leaves are not large enough to cover the ever enlarging area.  So, to help the plant grow larger, she will loose the outer leaves. Once the leaf dies off, the outer layer of skin will dry up.  This outer skin will peel off on its own, but if you would like a neater looking plant, you can carefully peel off this dead skin.  Your other leaves might develop brown tips on them as well.  This is also ok and all you need to do is trim them back to the green and you'll be fine.

Propagation: Watching new bulb lets pop out of the mother is a wonderful experience.  After the bulb matures enough, depending on the harshness of its environmental conditions, your Pregnant Onion will be ready to begin making babies.