Stillwater News Press

Garden

June 7, 2014

In the Garden 06-08-14

‘Stars’ of the garden

I have been thoroughly enjoying the weekly columns on bird life at Boomer Lake. I have also been enjoying a new (to me) array of backyard birds these last weeks. Thus, I decided to write a column on a little known bulb, Ornithogalum. How this genus acquired its name I do not know, but some say it is because each flower bears a prominent black, shiny seed that resembles a bird’s eye.

You may have encountered it in catalogs or on the fall bulb racks sold under the common names Star of Bethlehem or Chincherinchee. You may even have unknowingly had one in your houseplant collection known better as the Pregnant onion. Numerous species of Ornithogalum have a few familiar features, but their growth habits and hardiness can differ greatly.

Native to regions of Europe, Asia and South Africa, the flowers of this bulb have long been a favorite of mine. Numerous white flowers with a green strip on the petals backside open to surprise me each season. The foliage, strap-like and green gently lies down to reveal the opening umbel. When tender varieties (grown in pots) lay flat the long grass-like leaves, I can’t stand the messy look.

The hardiest species (USDA Zone 6 and below) are O. umbellatum (12 inches), O. montanum (6 inches) and O. lanceolatum (4 inches). These three are spring flowering with round or flattened flowering heads. An early summer bloomer that may be successful in a well-drained protected area is O. thyrsoides. It grows to a height of 18 inches with a conical spike of flowers. (USDA Zone 7).

Like most bulbs, Ornithogalum blooms and afterward gathers food through its foliage for the coming season. For the spring bloomers, a dry period in late summer and winter facilitates dormancy … a needful rest for all living things. This is why rock gardens or raised beds are ideal places to plant these “Stars.”  

In grassy areas, the shorter species have been known to “invade” lawns, to which I can only think might prove to be a blessing!

All parts of these bulbs are poisonous if ingested and some find the milky sap in the flowering stalks to be a skin irritant.

Lasting 10-14 days in a vase, harvest stems when buds begin to show white. Place entire stem in warm water to hydrate and encourage uniform opening of the flowers. Bulbs can be purchase online or through Burpee Seed.

LeeAnn Barton has worked with nurseries for more than 20 years. She digs in the dirt in Stillwater. Direct questions to her by emailing leeannbarton@sbcglobal.net.

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