Few-flowered garlic is a 20-30 cm high plant that can flower as early as the end of March. The plant grows in mountain areas around the Caspian Sea in the Caucasus, Iran and Turkmenistan.
The scientific name is Allium paradoxum and there are two natural forms: A. paradoxum var. paradoxum and A. paradoxum var. normal. Both have a single leaf and a sharp triangular flower stem, but only the normale variety forms many flowers. The variety paradoxum usually forms bulbils instead of flowers.
The variety paradoxum was brought to England in 1823 and since then it can be found in several European countries, including the Netherlands. Due to the formation of the bulbils, it is considered an invasive species.
The introduction of the normale variety in Europe is credited to Admiral Paul Furse, who brought back some bulbs of A. paradoxum var. normale to England in 1966. The normale variety forms an umbel of a few to 15 hanging, clear white, bell-shaped flowers. This makes it an attractive ornamental plant.
The namesake of Allium paradoxum, the German Baron F. A. Marschall von Bieberstein (1768-1826), first thought that the plant was a somewhat different daffodil and therefore gave the name Scilla paradoxa (Flora Taurico-Caucasica). George Don (1798-1856), a Scottish botanist, later found out in 1827 that it is an Allium, but kept the name paradoxum. Hence the official name Allium paradoxum (M. Bieb.) G. Don.
Paradoxum comes from the Greek paradoxos and means "against the expectation". Perhaps appropriate for this Allium, because in contrast to few-flowered garlic, almost all other Alliums generally have several leaves and many flowers, so in that sense the plant is poor in flowers, especially the variety paradoxum.
The British botanist W. T. Stearn (1911 – 2001) described both varieties in 1987 in Curtis's Botanical Magazine (pp 194-201), which is now quoted as Bot. Allowed. (Kew Mag.) 4:196 (1987). Because of this article, the naming of the now commercially available variety of few-flowered garlic has become generally accepted as Allium paradoxum var. normal Stearn. This more attractive variety normale can be admired in several botanical gardens.