Small-flowered Onion Grass (Romulea minutiflora), a minuscule cousin of the standard saccharine Onion Grass (R. rosea).
Also originating in South Africa, the Small-flowered Onion Grass is exactly that, a diminutive version of the magenta horror that flashes through Melbourne’s springtime, with flower, leaf blades and underground corm all pint-sized by comparison.
There are early records of the plant in Victoria, from the Wimmera in 1890 and at Brighton in 1892, just a few years after the species was formally described by the German botanist Klatt in 1882. Although the plant doesn’t appear to have been collected again in Victoria until the 1940s, from 1905-1908 it was collected in SA from sites south and east of Adelaide, and evidently endured there. In 1947 the smaller Onion Grass was collected at Bendigo, in 1952 just inside the border to SA on the railway reserve at Kaniva, and in 1963 on the Hume Highway north of Benalla. In 1981 it was collected from Melbourne’s Domain Parklands. It would be lovely to know whether the genetics of plants in Melbourne today reflect just one or several introductions.
VicFlora calls the species ‘widespread on fertile ground, chiefly in Northern Victoria’, but that probably undersells it. While not as ubiquitous as the standard Onion Grass (Romulea rosea), the small-flowered species can be found frequently in highly managed parks and nature strips across Melbourne and its suburbs. Because managed lawns are rarely the subject of formal survey, it will certainly be under-recorded here and probably elsewhere in the state in those conditions.
The photographed plants were seen two years apart on the same late August date; in 2019 on nature strips at Werribee, and in 2021 at GE Robinson Park in Reservoir. After two weeks of interchangeably warm and wet weather, their flowering has wrapped up quickly, leaving only that vague texture of grassy leaves to be seen against the park lawns.