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How to Grow Ornithogalum Plants

Guide to Growing Star of Bethlehem, Snake Flower, Chincherinchee, and Sun Star

Ornithogalum Plants range from 10 cm to 60 cm (4 to 24 inches) in height and are usually grown as half hardy or hardy bulbs in the garden.

Ornithogalum flowers in the spring or summer (species dependent) carrying star shaped bells of white, orange, or pale green flowers, atop leafless stems.

Some common names for Ornithogalum include Star of Bethlehem flower, Sun Star, Grass Lily, Eleven-o'clock Lady, and Chincherinchee.

It is estimated that there are between 50 and 300 members in this genus, with the exact number being argued by the plant taxonomists. Most plants are characterized by having star shaped flowers, linear basal leaves, and ovoid flower bulbs.

They make great plants to grow in a rockery, border, or containers and are at their best in the later months of spring at the start of summer. They are very fragrant and do well in sun or light shade. Beware that as these bulbous perennial plants produce offsets they are able to spread very quickly, with some species becoming invasive if not controlled properly.

Ornithogalum Species for the Garden

Ornithogalum umbellatum

Common names include the Garden star-of-Bethlehem, Splendid Ornithogalum, Nap-at-noon, and Grass lily.

Ornithogalum umbellatum
Ornithogalum umbellatum (Star of Bethlehem plant) photograph by thatredhead4.

It grows well in US zones 4 to 9, UK Hardiness H6. Leaves are strap-like. Plants bloom at the start of summer. Flowers are star shaped, white on the inside and green on the out.

Ornithogalum dubium

Star of Bethlehem, Orange star flower, Snake flower

Ornithogalum dubium
Ornithogalum dubium (Orange Star/Sun star) picture by Zed66.

This plant carry attractive brilliant orange, red, or yellow tepals with a flower center of brown or green. Plants reach about 12 to 20 inches (30 to 50 cm) in height, and leaves are narrow, lance-shaped, and yellow-green.

Ornithogalum dubium does well outdoors in zones 7 to 11 in areas that have excellent drainage. It can make a good container plant in cooler areas if you bring it indoors for the winter. It is frost tender and classed as Hardiness H2 for the UK and Europe, where it can be grown outdoors in the summer, but should be brought inside well before temperatures drop to freezing.

If growing in containers, then do not water through the winter, and repot in the spring before putting outdoors once temperatures have warmed up. Supply plenty of water during the growing season.

Ornithogalum nutans

Also known as the Nodding Star of Bethlehem or the Drooping Star of Bethlehem.

Ornithogalum
Ornithogalum nutans photograph by Wallygrom.

Plants can reach 2 feet (60 cm) in height. The flowers are bell-shaped stars, striped green and white, and fragrant. Leaves are strapped with a central vein of silver. Growing regions USA 6 to 10, UK H5 (Hardy in the UK to -15°C (5°F). Usually grown beneath shrubs and rose bushes, in rock gardens, or in a bed or border.

This species is considered invasive in many areas, so check your local regulations before growing it. Full details on Growing Nodding Star of Bethlehem can be found here.

Ornithogalum thyrsoides

Commonly referred to as Chincherinchee or the Wonder Flower

ornithogalum thyrsoides
Ornithogalum thyrsoides (Chinkerinchee) by Abelard.

Perennial bulb reaching 45 cm (18 inches) in height with a spread of 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 inches).

Blooms in summer if planted in spring, or in spring if planted in the autumn. Makes a good container or border plant.

Ornithogalum thyrsoides has conical spikes, each of which has about 30 cup-shaped flowers. These are white, but the center has a hint of green. Leaves are bright green and lance shaped like grass. Makes a good cut flower.

NB. When people think of Ornithogalum bethlehem they are usually looking for O. umbellatum or O. arabicum species: as O. bethlehem is not currently listed as a species.

Growing and Care Guide

  • Common Names: Star-of-Bethlehem, Chincherinchee, Snake Flower, Prussian Asparagus, Orange Star Flower.
  • Life Cycle: Hardy bulb. Half-hardy bulb.
  • Height: 4 to 24 inches (10—60 cm).
  • Native: There are three distinct classes of Ornithogalum based on the location from where they derive: tender species from (1) Southern Africa and (2) Tropical Africa; and hardy species from (3) the Mediterranean and Caucasus regions.
  • Growing Region: Zones 5 to 10.
  • Flowers: Species dependent: Plants derived from regions (1) and (3) bloom in spring, whilst those from region (3) bloom in late spring and early summer.
  • Flower Details: White. Star-shaped. Atop leafless flower stems.
  • Foliage: Basal. Linear.
  • Planting: Usually grown from Ornithogalum bulbs as seed grown plants will not bear flowers for at least four years.
    Bulbs: 3 to 6 inches (7.5—15 cm); bury deepest in cooler regions. Autumn for region (1) and (2) tender bulbs, in the late spring for hardy group (3) plants. Space at 4 to 6 inches (10—15 cm).
    Seeds: Cover seed. Germination time: one to six months.
    Method 1: Seeds should first be sown into flats in the autumn. Sink the flat into the ground in an area that offers shade, preferably close to a wall that faces north. Provide a glass/plastic covering. Keep an eye on the flats to ensure that the soil remains moist. Bring the flats indoor at the beginning of spring and keep at 60°F (16°C).
    Method 2: In the spring, mix seeds in a moist growing medium, then put in flats, wrap in a large plastic bag, then stratify by refrigeration for three weeks. Next bury the flat as described above. Once seedlings emerge transplant them to their final location.
  • Requirements and care: Full sunlight through to full shade. Good drainage. Rich soil. In the early spring supply a top dressing of manure. Provide frequent feeds with weak fertilizer. Divide frequently to maintain vigor. Deadhead before seed-set to prevent spreading. Propagate: by taking offcuts cuttings in the autumn. Can self-seed successfully.
  • Family:
  • Closely Related Species:
  • Miscellaneous: Ornithogalum umbellatum is invasive in some areas. The hardy species tend to be smaller and have larger flowers, making them great container plants.
  • Further Reading and References: How to Care for a Ornithogalum dubium; Ornithogalum umbellatum by Missouri Botanical Garden; and Orange Star Perennial.
  • Family:: Asparagaceae, the Asparagus and Hyacinth Family of plants.
  • Closely Related Family Members: How to Grow Hyacinth; Plume Asparagus; Grow Asparagus; Yucca Plant; and Bluebells.

How to Grow Star of Bethlehem

It is easiest to grow the Star of Bethlehem plant, Sun Star and other Ornithogalumplants from bulbs; these should be planted at from 7 to 15 cm (3 to 6 inches) deep in the Spring (for summer flowering) or Autumn (for spring flowering). The bulbs should be planted at about 10 to 15 cm apart into a rich soil.

Ornithogalum species are able to grow in both sunny and shady areas of the garden, but they do require good drainage.

If growing Ornithogalum from seeds then it is best to first sow in flats in the spring (lightly cover the seeds). The flat should then be covered with a plastic bag, and placed in the fridge for about three weeks.

The flat should next be sunk into the ground in a shady part of the garden and allowed to germinate Plants can take anything from one to six months to germinate.

Once young seedlings appear, transplant them to their final location. It should take about four years until Ornithogalum grown from seed will first bloom, but the pleasure from growing from seeds is well worth the wait.

Caring for Star of Bethlehem and other Ornithogalum plants

It is fairly easy to care for Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum Star of Bethlehem) and Chinkerinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides) and similar species; they should be fertilized in April by mixing manure into the soil; and they will also require light fertilizing until the end of the summer.

Once established Ornithogalum may encroach, so weed as appropriate.



Garden Plants Common Name Index

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