by Stephen Mifsud
   2 Jun 2020      ()
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Asphodelus fistulosus   (Onion Weed)

Asphodelus fistulosus   (XANTHORRHOEACEAE.) 
Images for this profile are taken from the Maltese Islands at or after year 2000.

Contents Links   (Detailed Profile)

Nomenclature Morphology
Plant Description and Characters Plant Information and Uses
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Profile Date Apr-2004 (last update: 12-Jan-2019)
Citation for this page Mifsud, S. (Apr-2004) Asphodelus fistulosus retrieved from on 2020-Jun-02


Species name :

Asphodelus fistulosus  L

Authority :

Carl von Linne, Sweden, 1707-1778

Synonyms :

Basionym or principal synonyms: Asphodelus tenuifolius
Full list of synonyms: [ PlantList ]   [ IPNI ]   [ Catalogue of Life ]

Plant Family :

Xanthorrhoeaceae  Dumortier
(Grass Tree Family)

English name(s) :

Onion Weed, Pink Asphodel, Onion-leaved Asphodel

Maltese name(s) :

Berwieq Żgħir

Status for Malta :

Indigenous. Present on the Maltese islands before man

Name Derivation :

Asphodelus = The asphodel, a lily like plant with "eaten" roots, since the plant does not have much roots (Greek)
fistulosus = Hollow or tubular, usually referring to the stalks (Latin).

Remarks :


Morphology and structure



Growth Form




Erect :

Upright, vertically straight up well clear off the ground.

Single, unbranched scape :

Plant forms a single, leafless, robust, unbranched flowering stalk (=scape) which is often found growing from underground tubers, rhizomes, bulbs or corms.

Glabrous :

Smooth; without any hairs, bristles or other projections.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







No arrangement :

Leaves grow randomly from bulbs, rhizomes or other underground stems at no particular arrangement.

Sessile from an underground stem :

Growing directly from an underground stem (bulb, rhizome, tuber, etc.) without a stalk.

Parallel venation :

Veins running from the base parallel to the leaf longitudinal axis.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)


Leaf Shape

Leaf Margin



Linear :

Long and narrow with parallel margins.

Entire :

Smooth margin without indentations, lobes or any projections.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)




Basic Flower Type

No. of Petals

No. of Sepals



with a central longitudinal orange-brown stripe in verey petal.

Stellate :

A flower with non overlapping petals arising separately from a central point and hence forming a shape of a star.


To be botanically precise, the flower has 3 sepals (outer whorl) and 3 petals (inner whorl) which are identical, and so they are collectively referred to as 6 tepals or perianth segments.



  Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)







Raceme :

Simple, elongated, indeterminate cluster with stalked flowers.

The flower consists of 6 oval, wax-white petals; 6 drooping anthers composed of a white stubby filament and an orange brown anther; 1 central white style that have a 3-parted pink stigma ; and a central and superior ovary which is enclosed by a white cap.

Superior :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.

#, Antipetalous :

Ovary situated above the flower parts (the calyx, corolla, and androecium). In other words, these are attached below the ovary.


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Average Flower Size

Pollen Colour

Other Notes



Honey-like fragrance especially in young flowers.






No. Per Fruit








Dark grey


Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)



Fruit Type

Colour of Fruit

Subterranean Parts

Other Notes


Dehiscent Loculicidal Capsule :

A fruit capsule that splits open longitudinally into the cavity of the locule when the seeds are ripe.

Green with 3 dark stripes

Fibrous roots :

A rooting system where there is a mass of thin, spreading, thread-like roots, without a primary enlarged main root (taproot). No root grows larger than another.



Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019) Online Flora of the Maltese Islands  2002-2019)

Plant description and characters

Life Cycle:


Growth Form:

HEMICRYPTOPHYTE (prostate plants with flowers close to the ground)


Garigue, grassy banks, sandy ground or on poor non-calcareous soil especially in locations by the sea.


Very Rare

Localities in Malta:

Rare. Few plants found near Calypso cave in Gozo, and on the fortifications of the Argotti Botanical Gardens in Malta.

Plant Height:


Flowering Period:


Protection in Malta:

Not Protected by Law (LN200/2011 or LN311/2006)

Red List 1989:

This species has a threatened status and is listed in the Red Data Book of the Maltese Islands


Not Poisonous.

This monocot is a perennial which grows from underground fibrous roots. It is seen as a rosette of basal leaves multiple and several unbranched flowering stems.

The plant have several long basal leaves which grow from the underground roots as a rosette. The grey-green leaves are linear in shape, 20-35cm long and just 0.3-0.5 cm wide. Their margin is smooth. The cross section of the leaf is semi-cylindrical and hollowed (like a tube), hence the species name 'fistulosus'. Usually the leaves remain erect and do not bend down. Since the leaves look similar to the onion, this plant got the name of Onion weed. The flowering stem is glabrous, and un-branched producing short-stalked, alternate flowers along its length. Therefore the inflorescences are described as racemes

Flowers are attached to the flowering stalk by 0.5mm long pedicel. In every raceme, the bottom flower opens first and slowly the flowers above blooms one by one. Every single flower remains in bloom for several days. The flower buds are made from the petals itself, since they do not have any true distinctive sepals. The buds are bullet-shaped, and have a white colour with brown vertical stripes.

When the buds open up, they produce a flower with 6 wax-white, oval petals each having a central reddish-brown mid-vein. The most noticable part of the flower is however the 6 stamens which are drooping, and about 8mm long. Each stamen consists of a stubby white filament and a conspicuous large brown anther covered with orange pollen. The central and single style+stigma is slightly longer than the anthers which are about 10mm long. The stigma is divided into 3 inflated pink structures. The flower measures approximately 15-20mm accross, and is sweet scented.

The flower gives the false impression that the ovary has a white colour. Actually, the inferior ovary is green but it is enclosed by a whitish cap which is formed by 6 flaps each coming from the base of every stamen. The fruit are dehiscent capsules, the size of a pea (6mm c.) and splits open when the numerous black seeds are ripe in early Summer. The unripe fruit is originally orange/brown and slowly becomes green with time.

Information, uses and other details

Derivation of the Genus name - Asphodelus

According to an Italian site [WWW-47] Asphodelus comes from a composite Greek world as indicated below:

a = non;
spodos = ashes;
edos = valley;
So it means a valley of the remains that has not been destroyed to ashes by fire. The name is associated with the fact that this plant's underground tubers are somehow not much harmed by accidental fire, and so, these resistant tubers will quickly forms back the plant in life. So after some time, what remains after a fire are these surviving Asphodelus plants.

Another reference [WWW-03] have a completely different version, but also Greek in origin. The ancients planted the flowers near tombs, regarding them as the form of food preferred by the dead, and many poems refer to this custom. The name is derived from a Greek word meaning sceptre.


Asphodelus fistulosus is native to southern France and Crete [WWW-03]

Edible Uses

The roots were used to be eaten cooked [46, 61, 105] The root is fibrous according to one report [100] whilst another says that the swollen root has radical root fibres [42] . After cooking and reducing the bulbous roots to a pulp, it is suggested it be blended into a confection with barley and buckwheat flour [WWW-33]

The plant is eaten as a vegetable, records of 'edible bulbs' seem to be erroneous [177] .

Cultivation details

Succeeds in ordinary garden soil, tolerating partial shade [200] . Requires a well-drained soil. Prefers a deep rich sandy loamy soil [1, 42] . Prefers a sunny position in a soil that is not too rich [200] . Grows well on hot dry banks [42] . Plants seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits [233] .


Seed - sow March/April in a greenhouse and only just cover the seed. Germination usually takes place in 1 - 3 months at 15�c [134] . When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. When the plants are large enough to handle, plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Division in early spring or autumn [111] .

Medicinal Uses

The seed is diuretic. It is also applied externally to ulcers and inflamed parts of the body. The seed contains oils rich in linoleic acid and are of value in preventing atherosclerosis [240] .

Diuretic Tends to increase the flow of urine    [WWW-32]

Significance of Asphodelus

The presence of the Asphodel is often a sign of overgrazed ground since the plant is not usually eaten by animals. [274] It is also an indication of poor nutrient soil, since it is one of the few plants prefers un-rich soil. Furthermore to this it can serve as a sign of environmental or ambient degradation, since the soil is getting less in quantity and nutrients. [WWW-47] In fact one can hardly find Asphodel where there is plenty of vegetation or trees around [SM] As discussed previously, it also indicate that there was a fire in the surrounding area since the underground tubers resist such an incidence [WWW-47] .

Personal Observations

Explanation of the Common name
The plant got the common name as Onion weed, not because it forms bulbs similar in taste or shape to onions but because of the similarity of the leaves. For this reason, sometimes it is referred to as Onion-leaved Asphodel. The common Onion or Allium cepa comes from a different but very close-related family of the Asphodel, hence the Lily (Liliacea). [SM]

More detailed botanical information about the tepals
Generally the species of the Asphodelaceae and also those of the parent family Liliaceae are described to have 6 petals and no sepals. This will suit the description very well because that what appears to be. However the exact data would be that the flowers have 3 sepals and 3 petals, that are nearly identical in shape, colour and location. For example in this particular species, if one would examine carefully the flower, one should note that three petals are slightly more broad than the other 3 in an alternate way. These larger petals are the 'sepals'. However in practical botanical description, it is not wrong to describe that Lily flowers have 6 petals. A better approach would be to say it has 6 tepals instead of just petals; [SM] tepal = A perianth segment in a flower in which all the perianth segments are similar in appearance. [WWW-32]

The two Asphdelus species in Malta
Below is a table which compares some facts and important botanical aspects between the two Asphodelus species that are found in Malta, thus the A. fistulosus and the A. aestivus. [SM]
Feature Asphodelus aestivus Asphodelus fistulosus
Occurence in Malta Common Rare
Length 150cm c. 50cm c.
Shape and length of Leaves Ensiform, 45cm Linear, 25cm
Branching at the flower stalk Many branches and sub-branches (Panicle) Often unbranched (Raceme)
Flower shape White with a red/brown central stripe at every petal White with a red/brown central stripe at every petal
Stamens 6, Erect, 25mm long, 6, Drooping, stubby, 10mm long
Anther colour Bright Orange Brown
Stigma Simple, white Divided into 3 inflated structures, pink
Fruit Orange-Brown, pea sized capsules Orange-Brown turning green, pea sized capsules

Photo Gallery   (22 Images)

Photo of white flower in situ. The drooping stamens with the large brown anthers are very conspicuous.
Photo of Flower in situ.
Photo of Flower in situ.
Photo of flower in situ.
Close up photo of flower clearly showing the 3-parted stigma, this one being more orange than pink in colur.
Photo of flower (lateral view) against the background of the sky.
Photo of flower (lateral view) against a dark background.
Photo of back side of flower.
Scanned image of flower and some buds. The diameter of flowers is around 20mm.
Annotated scanned image of flower scanned against a dark background.
Magnified scanned image of 4 stamens and stigma. The stigma is usually pink and has 3 swollen bodies. The anthers are brown, but in situ they may look orange due to the presence of the bright orange pollen.
Scanned image of white, bullet-shaped buds with red-brown vertical stripes. The bud is made up from the petals (also called tepals) but no true sepals are present).
Photo of flowers and fruit capsules growing alternately along several flowering stalks.
Photo of orange brown (young) or green (more ripe) fruit capsules on several flowering stalks.Photo taken on 5th April 2004 .
Close up photo of fruit capsules in situ. They are about 5mm in size and the mature ones are green with 3 dark stripes.
Scanned image of fruit capsules. An interesting feature is that the young capsules are orange/ brown, and then they turn green with time.
Photo of several plants found at limits of Ramla Bay, Gozo. They where growing from sand-rich soil in some uncropped fields.
Photo of plant in situ. The linear shaped leaves stay erect and usually do not bend down.
Photo of the black seeds which have rough, wrinkled seed coat.
Magnified image of pollen under Microscope (taken from Flora apistica della Sicilia, by Prof N. Longhitano ).
Scanned image of leaves. They are linear and gradually tapering to a pointed, non-sharp and usually dry tip.
Cross section of leaf at various parts along its length. As it can be seen, the center is hollowed. The stem is also hollowed.

Links & Further info

Google Web

Google Images

Yahoo Web

Yahoo Images




Med Checklist

Cat. of Life



The Plant List


Vienna Virt. Hb.





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