Society Garlic

A cluster of light purple five-petaled flowers
Photo by C. Wildes.

Society garlic is a groundcover that produces delicate, star-shaped purple flowers. These perennial plants grow to about a foot tall and are wonderful in borders or mass plantings.

Native to the rocky grasslands in eastern South Africa, society garlic (Tulbaghia violacea) is actually not in the same genus as garlic and onions, which are in the Allium genus. They are however in the same plant family as onion. The common name “society garlic” comes from the old rumor that this plant tastes like garlic without leading to bad breath.


Society garlic is a clump-forming herbaceous perennial with narrow, grass-like green leaves and clusters of small lilac flowers. Leaves reach about a foot tall and flowers rise up on stalks about two feet tall. The tubular flowers open up at the end to look like six pointed stars.

Varieties include ‘Silver Lace’, also called ‘Variegata’, which has larger flowers and cream striped leaves; ‘Tricolor’ has pink and white variegations.

Tolerant of both cold and drought, this plant grows in zones 8 to 10 and flowers in warm months. The leaves smell of garlic when disturbed, so keep this in mind when selecting a location for planting. Having society garlic in a high traffic area may be visually attractive, but unless you like the constant smell of garlic every time the plant is brushed against, this placement is not ideal. On the brighter side, it’s also resistant to deer damage.

The rhizomes and leaves are edible and can be used in dishes the same way that garlic or garlic chives are used. Flowers are also edible and can be used as a delicate garnish.

Planting and Care

Grasslike clumps of society garlic
Photo by C. Wildes.

Society garlic is great for a sunny, water-wise garden. This easy-to-grow plant prefers sandy soil, and performs best in terms of flowering with full sun; it can be grown in partial shade but it will not flower well. Plants thrive with regular watering during the growing season, less frequent watering when flowering, and reduced watering during the winter dormant period. Established plants will be able to survive extended droughts when necessary. Society garlic can tolerate moderate frosts and light freezes.

You can propagate your plants easily by dividing the clumps while the plant is dormant. When grown outdoors, plants spread slowly by rhizomes but are not considered aggressive.

Society garlic is also great for growing in containers however it will still need bright sunlight for best results.

For more information on society garlic, contact your county Extension office.

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