Daily Nature Diary 4: onion shoots (Allium cepa)

This will be a short entry because today was a full day. It was also a rainy day, so I didn’t get out to explore other than to make a morning run to the grocery store. It was eerily quiet. Everyone tried to stay six feet apart, but we still smiled at one another as we navigated our carts through the aisles. It reminded me of an old focus-building game I used to play in middle school theater where we had to maintain our personal invisible bubble while still moving purposefully through the space. If any two actors got too close together their bubbles popped and everyone had to start over. This is how I think about flattening the curve: individual actions affect the entire group. By staying apart, we’re all working together to protect each other’s safety.

I did write something I’m quite proud of today: a letter of recommendation for one of my students to join a Distinguished Majors Program at the University. It was wonderful to write something I knew could have such a positive impact on someone’s future. It was wonderful to write about the future.

I found an old onion I’d forgotten about in the back of my pantry cabinet. It’s sprouted little green shoots out the top. Warmer temperatures stimulate the bulb to grow, so I guess my pantry must be just warm and dark enough to feel like spring earth. I’m going to cut the onion for my dinner tonight, but I wonder if it would flower like the daffodil bulbs along our fence if I planted it? I looked it up and sure enough, if you leave sweet onions bulbs in the ground for multiple years they produce little white flower puffballs.

On our video call last night, my sister in law told us how she had planted green onions in a pot on their back porch last year but never saw any shoots. And yet, this year they have green onions popping up in the corner of their yard. I wonder if some creature dug them out of the pot and moved them, or whether some stray seeds fell on a patch of good exposed soil?

I’m amazed by an onion’s tenacity. Tiny seeds manage to spread all over the world through wind, water, and the movements of animals. In Origin, Darwin recognized that seeds persist through extraordinary circumstances. He floated seeds in barrels of brine in his lab and attempted to foster cross-species seed transmission from plant to goldfish to duck (with limited success). Still, his experiments demonstrated that it was possible for seeds to disperse long distances and colonize new places halfway around the globe. An inland seed stuck to the foot of a migrating seabird can germinate on a distant island. A mischievous squirrel can dig up some green shoots and accidentally replant them. An onion from the pantry can sprout an entire garden.

It’s a day of looking ahead, and planting new seeds.


Darwin, C. (1859). On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. London: John Murray.

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