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the web of life in southern Africa

Allium cepa (Onion, Spring onion, Shallot)

Eiee/ Hanyanese [Sesotho]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Asparagales > Family: Amaryllidaceae > Genus: Allium

Allium cepa (Onion, Spring onion, Shallot)  
Allium cepa, Vienna Botanical Gardens, Austria. [photo H.G. Robertson, Iziko ]  

Domesticated as a vegetable that is eaten raw or cooked. Exact origins uncertain but thought to have been domesticated from one or more species in Central Asia. 

Allium cepa (Onion, Spring onion, Shallot)

Allium cepa is a cultigen species and its wild origins are not certain but seem to be derived from one or more species of Allium found in the mountains of Central Asia. Onions were being cultivated by the Egyptians by 3200 BC but their domestication probably goes back a lot further than this although evidence is lacking because their remains do not preserve well in archaeological deposits.

Onions have been bred in varying sizes, shapes and colours. Spring Onions are small specimens of Allium cepa used raw in salad. Shallots are small onions that grow as a bunch of bulbs. 

Derivations of names

  • Eiee/ Hanyanese [Sesotho]. From the Afrikaans word ui (Moteetee & van Wyk 2006)


  • Moteetee, A. and van Wyk, B-E. 2006. Sesotho names for exotic and indigenous edible plants in southern Africa. Bothalia 36(1): 25-32.

  • Phillips, R. & Rix, M. 1993. Vegetables. Pan Books, London.

Text by Hamish Robertson