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Desert Diary


Some city folk may envision a bulb as something that gives light when you flip a switch. People more attuned to nature know that the light bulb is named from its shape which mimics bulbs such as those of onions.

Of course, when we think of onions, we usually have in mind a large white, yellow, or purplish object on the supermarket shelf that is really only the basal part of an onion plant. A bulb itself consists of a very short stem buried within large, fleshy, scale-like leaves. If you slice an onion from top to bottom, the structure becomes apparent.

Domestic onions are derived from one or a few of the 450 or more species of Allium. Members of this genus are notorious for their distinctive tastes and odors, and include not only onions, but such plants as chives, leeks, and garlic. Various wild species were widely used by Native Americans and early European settlers. Who can doubt that the several species that grow in the Chihuahuan Desert added appreciated pizzazz to foods of yesterday?
pen and ink


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

vertically sectioned onion

A domestic onion cut vertically to show the fleshy leaves and other structures. The short conical stem does not show up well in this photograph, but lies immediately above the root region. Photograph by A.H. Harris.