Both varieties of garlic (Allium sativum), hard-necks (Ophioscorodon) and soft-necks (Sativum), look similar in terms of the vegetative structure. There are a few differences though.
Soft-neck garlic cultivations have been developed from the hard-neck ones and generally lost the ability to produce the scape. This means that soft-neck does not produce the spathe or the umbel filled with bulbils and flowers. As happens in life there are exceptions to every rule and on rare occasions a soft-neck will rebel and partially bolt producing the scape and all of its parts.
With the exception to root cluster, underground stem and the protective papyrus-like wrappers on the garlic bulb, all of the other parts of the garlic plant are edible. The commonly consumed parts though are peeled garlic cloves and the scape. See how to use both under the garlic recipes tab.
Garlic plant underground structure
The garlic bulb is the most complex of common alliums. Garlic bulbs are designed for long storage. They can store for anything from a month to over a year. The healthier the plant the longer its storage capability (dependent on variety and cultivation). Garlic bulbs grow underground and the mature garlic plant’s bulb contains anything from a few to over 20 cloves. Dependent on the variation and the cultivation the size of the bulb can be anything from the first of a newborn baby to that of adults. Due to the lack of scape emergence, soft-necks produce larger bulbs than hard-necks, however the hard necks’ bulb size can be significantly affected if the scape is left on for longer. Hard-necks produce smaller bulbs, but the cloves within the bulbs are usually larger than the average soft-neck’s. A garlic bulb contains storage leaves known as cloves. The commonly known garlic skins are protective garlic sheaths that don’t swell during the garlic cloves growth, but dry and form protective wrappers which promote the garlic’s bulb vegetative propagation.
It is easy to learn how to store garlic and extend a garlic bulb’s shelf life to long after the garlic plant was lifted out of the ground.
Garlic cloves collectively are the main component of a garlic bulb and are sectioned by protective garlic sheaths. The number of cloves in the bulb varies depending on the cultivation, variation, the size, color, and the pungency. A single garlic clove planted in the ground can grow in to a fully-shaped garlic plant. However, the best quality garlic plants are grown from garlic seed and these are recommended for the garlic growers who look for disease-free and healthy garlic.
The garlic stem is an underground structure and both leaves and roots initiate from it. It dies long before the garlic plant is harvested. Before this happens the stem leaves the base for the future roots and the stem at the bottom of each garlic clove within the garlic bulb.
Garlic roots grow from all sides of the garlic bulb’s flat plate of the underground stem. The roots are white, hairless and quite strong. A mature garlic plant has around 40-60 roots. Surprisingly, the garlic plant roots are not efficient for a nutrient intake, especially phosphate (due to a symbiotic fungus commonly found on the roots of a garlic plant). This is the reason why growers are advised to feed the garlic plant with phosphate to ensure the plant’s strength and health. The optimal temperature for the garlic roots to emerge is 59F (15C) to 68F (25C). The roots appear faster in the lower temperatures and much slower in the higher temperatures.
Garlic plant structure above the ground
Scape is an extension of the underground stem and the flat base of the garlic bulb and becomes the flower stalk in the further stages of the growth of the garlic plant. Scape is produced by hard-necks only, however it might happen that a soft-neck produces one too, which is rather rare. Scape is shot up by the garlic plant and initially grows erect (sometimes bents or coils during the growth). This is the time when the scape is most tender and best for cooking. Scape has a mild garlic flavor with a texture resembling asparagus. Kept on, until it starts curling downwards, is claimed to extend the bulb storage after the harvest, however if left on for too long it affects the size of the bulb. Fresh scape keeps well for several weeks in the refrigerator.
Bulbils are asexual propagules, a small seed produced by the bolting cultivations of garlic, mostly hard-necks. It happens that soft-neck cultivation partially bolt and release a scape crowned by the spathe filled with tiny bulbils and flowers. Bulbils compete for the garlic plant energies with the tiny flowers within the spathe. Bulbils differ in shape, colour and size depending on the garlic cultivation. They are edible, however they are mostly used as the seeds for the new garlic plant.
Spathe is a special leaf, which before maturing and splitting, ends with a long, spiky beak. The spathe encases the umbel filled with the bulbils and inflorescence and when fully matured it splits to reveal the content. Afterwards it dries out but remains connected to the base.
Umbel capsule is a part of the spathe containing inflorescence & bulbils. It is an informal term referring to the cluster encased by the spathe.
The number of leaves, their width and length on a garlic plant varies amongst horticultural groups and cultivations of garlic. On average there usually are around 12 garlic leaves per garlic plant. This, next to the narrow width of the leaves, can significantly affect the growth and the health of the whole plant in case of even a small foliage reduction.
Growers should act immediately should they notice any change in the foliage look or its reduction as this can be the first indicator of one of the common garlic plant diseases. Garlic plant leaves will become softer and start turning yellow or brown when the garlic plant is close to being ready to be harvested. Visit the growing garlic section to find out how to recognize that the garlic is ready to be lifted or garlic pests & diseases to check for the symptoms of presence of either.