Star of Bethlehem – Ornithogalum

Ornithogalum, or Star of Bethlehem as they are more commonly called, for it is in Palestine that the white-flowered O. narbonense, is to be found in its natural state. Flowering from April until the end of June, they will hold their flowering heads, umbels of star-like flowers, in almost perfect condition for nearly three months. Not only is their flowering range considerable but so is their variation of height, so that some are ideal for the rockery and for massing in grass, others do well in a border or shrubbery while those that grow taller are useful for planting at the back of a border and in any sunny corner protected from the wind.

Yet another point in their favour is that they will bloom in partial shade and the more dwarf-flowering varieties will bloom profusely under deciduous trees or even on the rockery. Several of the species, in particular O. nutans, will make a charming late-May display when carpeted with alpine Phlox,Ornithogalum subulata – especially the rich pink-flowering Margery, or the deep purple, Atropurpurea. O. nutans and O. umbellatum are both most attractive when planted in grass, a grassy bank where their silvery white blooms may readily be seen will prove ideal – or plant them in the shrubbery or between cracks in crazy paving. They will increase rapidly from their naturally sown seed or by the formation of bulblets.

Though they thrive in any ordinary garden soil they are lovers of woodland conditions and flourish to perfection if some peat or leaf mould is worked into the soil at planting-time, while they will also appreciate a mulch every October. They may be lifted, divided and replanted in October possibly once in four years.

The bulbs should be obtained in as fresh a condition as possible and are best planted 3-4 in. deep, spacing them at least 6 in. apart.


  • Ornithogalum balansae. Growing to a height of only 8 in. and bearing its snow-white waxy blooms early in May, this is a grand species for a rockery or the alpine house planted in pans. It will bloom indoors late in March.
  • O. narbonense. Similar in form and habit to balansae, this species bears a sturdy spike of pure white bloom throughout June. It looks most attractive towards the front of a shrubbery.
  • O. nutans. At its best when planted in grass and so freely does it seed, that within two years a few bulbs will have become a mass of milky white blooms which are flushed with green. The umbels on 8-in. stems are in bloom throughout May and into June.
  • O. pyramidale. Producing tall spires of rich creamy white flowers, this is one of the most outstanding plants for the waterside garden, flowering at the same time as many of the candelabra primulas. This ornithogalum, being a native of Europe, is a case of East meeting West in fullest harmony.
  • O. umbellatum. An excellent species for a shady corner, the dainty white flowers being carried on 6-in. stems throughout May.

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