Of the three species of wild onion we have in North Dakota, white wild onion is the first to bloom. We are well within the range of white wild onion, because it occurs on dry prairies from Alberta to Texas.
White wild onion is common in prairies with somewhat sandy or rocky soil. The plant is eaten by livestock, so it is best to look for it in pastures without a long history of overgrazing. The white flowers appear as one-inch wide clusters of ten to thirty on top of six- to twelve-inch stems. One or two wiry leaves grow from the base to the top of each plant. The perennial bulb lies about two inches underground.
The bulbs of white wild onion taste like a combination of onion and garlic. Many people find them delicious, but they are a little dry and rather difficult to dig.
Onions are members of the lily family (Liliaceae) which includes other edible forms such as garlic, leek, and asparagus, and also poisonous plants like death camas and hellebore. The generic name Lilium is the ancient Latin name of garlic. The specific name textile is from the Latin for "woven," in reference to the intricately intertwined fibers that coat the bulb. The onion was first described for science by Aven Nelson and James Macbride in 1913. Nelson (l859-1952) was a student of the Rocky Mountain flora at the University of Wyoming, while Macbride (1892-1976), another student of the West American flora, was associated with the famous Gray Herbarium at Harvard and later with the Chicago Natural History Museum.