Allium tuberosum (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Allium tuberosum Rottler ex Sprengel

Protologue: Syst. 2: 38 (1825).
Family: Liliaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 32


  • Allium odorum auct., non L. (1767),
  • A. uliginosum G. Don (1827),
  • A. senescens Miq. (1867).

Vernacular names

  • Chinese chives (En)
  • Indonesia: kucai
  • Malaysia: kuchai
  • Philippines: kutsay (Tagalog), ganda (Bisaya), amput di imayyaw (Ifugao)
  • Cambodia: kachaay
  • Thailand: kuichai (Bangkok), hom-paen (northern)
  • Vietnam: hẹ, nén tàu.

Origin and geographic distribution

Chinese chives is believed to have originated in China where it was certainly grown in the 10th Century and probably even as early as 200 BC. It grows wild in the central and northern parts of Asia, and is cultivated in China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Nepal, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and the United States.


Both the leaves and young inflorescences are used for seasoning food; they may be eaten blanched or green. They have a mild garlic taste and smell.

Chinese chives is used medicinally against tumours and intestinal disorders, as a stomachic and as bactericide in pulmonary infections, and is considered to promote recovery from fatigue. Leaves and bulbs are used in the Philippines as antiseptic and vulnerary. The seed is used in Thailand and Indo-China against toothache, as an antiseptic mouthwash.

Production and international trade

Chinese chives is of considerable importance in China, Japan and Taiwan but in South-East Asia it is only a minor vegetable, mainly used in fried or cooked Chinese dishes. No statistics on production in South-East Asia are available; international trade seems to be negligible. In Indonesia it is only locally important, e.g. in Tangerang District (West Java). In Malaysia and Thailand it is more common.


The leaves, forming 60-70% of the total weight, contain per 100 g edible portion: water 93 g, protein 2.1 g, fat 0.1 g, carbohydrates 2.8 g, fibre 0.9 g, ash 1 g, carotene 4 mg and vitamin C 25 mg. The energy value is 80 kJ/100 g. The antitumour activity is possibly related to the high carotene and vitamin C contents. The 1000-seed weight is 4-4.5 g.


  • A perennial herb forming dense clumps, 20-40 cm tall, with a prominently spreading rhizome from which thick long persistent roots emerge.
  • Bulbs indistinct, narrowly ovoid, 15-20 mm × 15 mm, with several protective brown bulb-coat leaves broken up into netted fibres.
  • Foliage leaves 4-9, distichous, linear, 13-45 cm × 2-10 mm, flat above, slightly keeled below, not folded lengthwise, suberect or curved.
  • Scape 1, compressed, with 2 longitudinal ribs, up to 50 cm long, solid.
  • Inflorescence umbellate, many-flowered, 3-5 cm in diameter, without bulbils; spathe short, persistent, opening with 1-3 valves; pedicels subequal, 14-35 mm long.
  • Flowers white, widely opened, star-like, slightly fragrant; tepals oblong to ovate, 6 mm × 3 mm; stamens and pistil up to as long as the tepals.
  • Fruit obovoid, 5-6 mm long and wide.
  • Seed irregularly depressed globose, 3-4 mm long, black.

Growth and development

Germination is epigeal, cotyledon with a typical bend (knee). The primary root dies early and many lateral roots originate from the very suppressed main stem, and, later, from the underside of the rhizome. Initially a rosette plant develops which later spreads via rhizomes, leading to dense clumps. Lateral vegetative bulbs, from which the plants also can perennate, form at the time of flowering in some cultivars. They are small, indistinct and white. Inflorescences initiate from terminal buds. Lateral bulbs in the axils of the leaves immediately below the inflorescence continue the growth of the vegetative axis (rhizome). Every 2-4 leaves the rhizome produces another inflorescence, altogether 2-4 per year. More than 90% of the seed develops apomictically.

Outside the tropics short photoperiods induce dormancy of buds which is broken by low temperatures; long photoperiods induce flowering. Under tropical conditions the growth is hardly or not interrupted by dormancy, and normally no flowering occurs.

Other botanical information

Many cultivars have been developed, especially in Japan, China and Taiwan. They differ in leaf size, dormancy period, tillering and hardiness. "Jumbo-Nira" is a Japanese cultivar with the longest dormancy period. In Indonesia several unnamed types occur, showing pronounced differences in leaf size and colour (light green versus dark green).


The optimum temperature for Chinese chives is about 20 °C. In Indonesia it is grown in the highlands up to 2200 m altitude on fertile and loose soils. Under tropical conditions growth is not interrupted by dormancy or by flowering. Nevertheless, flowering occurs in cultivars grown in Malaysia and Thailand, and the markets are commonly supplied with inflorescences as well. Flowering can be induced by using incandescent light to create artificially long days.


Outside the tropics Chinese chives is propagated by seed and in the tropics it is propagated vegetatively by division of clumps. In Indonesia it is mostly planted as a sole crop, but sometimes in combination with vegetables like amaranth and Brassica greens. When planted as a sole crop, plants are spaced at 15 cm in rows 40 cm apart. For home consumption, Chinese chives is often grown in pots. Leaves can be harvested 3-4 months after planting.

In China it is grown in trenches in order to induce blanching. To this end clumps of roots (stolons) are grown in darkness for the production of etiolated leaves. Inflorescences are usually harvested for consumption but may be maintained for seed production. Everywhere Chinese chives is a ratoon crop: leaves are harvested repeatedly from the same plants, in China even up to 20-30 years! Fertilizers are applied between harvests. The crop is renewed when the leaves become too small.

Chinese chives seems to be almost free from parasitic problems. It shows resistance to white rot (Sclerotium cepivorum), Fusarium oxysporum and leek moth (Acroplepia assectella). Only one pest (Bradysia odoriphaga) has been reported so far.

In the tropics Chinese chives is harvested the year round. Leaves are cut, bunched and marketed as fresh as possible. No yield data are available. As a rule the crop is grown close to the centres of consumption (big cities) and marketed as soon as possible. In fresh form it can only be stored for 2-3 days at 0-2 °C. Cut finely, it is suitable for freezing.

Genetic resources and breeding

The gene banks at the Zentralinstitut für Genetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung, Gatersleben (Germany) and at the Institute of Horticultural Research, Wellesbourne (United Kingdom) hold small collections.

In China, some selection of plants for seed production is done. In the tropics, selection is less easy because the vegetative propagation inhibits the generation of new genotypes.


Chinese chives, like garlic and onion, has an outstanding reputation as therapeutic and medicinal herb. This will undoubtedly stimulate its consumption in the future considerably. Consequently, breeding will deserve more attention. Artificial long-day treatment of Chinese chives in the tropics will be an easy way to produce seed and a large variety of genotypes as a starting point for selection and breeding.


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  • Buijsen, J.R.M., 1993. Alliaceae. In: Kalkman, C., Kirkup, D.W., Nooteboom, H.P., Stevens, P.F. & de Wilde, W.J.J.O. (Editors): Flora Malesiana. Series 1, Vol. 11. Rijksherbarium/Hortus Botanicus, Leiden, the Netherlands. pp. 375-384.
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  • Jones, H.A. & Mann, L.K., 1963. Onions and their allies. Botany, cultivation and utilization. Leonard Hill, London, United Kingdom. pp. 45, 61-62, 244-245.
  • Kosuge, T., Yokota, M., Sugiyama, K., Yamamoto, T., Ni, M.Y. & Yan, S.C., 1985. Studies on antitumour activities and antitumour principles of Chinese herbs. I. Antitumour activities of Chinese herbs. Yakugaku Zasshi 105(8): 791-795. (in Japanese)
  • Nguyen Van Duong, 1993. Medicinal plants of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Mekong Printing, Santa Ana, California, United States. 528 pp.
  • Quisumbing, E., 1978. Medicinal plants of the Philippines. Katha Publishing Co., Quezon City, the Philippines. 1262 pp.
  • Saito, S., 1990. Chinese chives, Allium tuberosum Rottl. In: Brewster, J.L. & Rabinowitch, H.D. (Editors): Onions and allied crops. Vol. 3. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida, United States. pp. 219-230.
  • Siemonsma, J.S. & Kasem Piluek (Editors), 1993. Plant Resources of South East Asia No 8. Vegetables. Pudoc Scientific Publishers, Wageningen, the Netherlands. 412 pp.
  • Tindall, H.D., 1983. Vegetables in the tropics. MacMillan, London, United Kingdom. pp. 30-31.
  • van der Meer, Q.P., 1990. The tropics as a natural entourage for cheap daylength research. Bulletin Penelitian Hortikultura [Horticultural Research Bulletin] 18 (special edition No 1): 81-89.

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