Star of Bethlehem
FULL SCIENTIFIC NAME
Ornithogalum umbellatum L.
FAMILY NAME COMMON
FAMILY SCIENTIFIC NAME
Ornithogalum umbellatum is an herbaceous plant that grows from ovoid bulbs that are renewed each year. The coat of the bulb is membranous. The leaves are narrow and linear, measuring 10-30 cm (4-12 in.) long and 2-5 mm (0.1-0.2 in.) wide. The leaves form a tuft from which a scape emerges. The white, star-shaped flowers are borne on a scape that can grow up to 30 cm (1 ft.) in height, but is usually shorter. The umbel-like raceme contains 3-10 flowers. Each flower has 6 petals and measures 1.5-2 cm (0.5-0.75 in.) in diameter. The outside of the flower is green with white margins. The flowers appear on the plant from May to June. The capsules of this plant are subglobose in shape and 3-sided. Each locule contains many black seeds. Page References Bailey 232, Fernald 437, Gleason & Cronquist 829, Holmgren 787, Magee & Ahles 348, Newcomb 334. See reference section below for full citations.
Ornithogalum umbellatum spreads by means of its bulbs, which can be dispersed by water. The extent to which it is able to reproduce by seed in the New England region is unclear.
Ornithogalum umbellatum is native to North Africa as well as Europe. In Europe, it is found from Portugal and Spain in the west, south to Italy, north to parts of France and east to Turkey. In the United States, this plant is found from Maine to Florida including all the states west to South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. It is also found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah. This plant has been reported from all New England states.
HISTORY OF INTRODUCTION IN NEW ENGLAND
Due to its attractive flowers, Ornithogalum umbellatum was most likely introduced into New England as a horticultural plant. The exact date of introduction is not known, but there were reports of large stands of it in 1940 in the forests of Indiana. It was most likely dispersed via additional plantings as well as the bulbs being washed downstream.
HABITATS IN NEW ENGLANDEarly Successional Forest, Edge, Floodplain Forest, Wet Meadow, Yard or Garden
This plant prefers moist to wet habitats. It is most often seen along the banks of rivers and streams in disturbed situations.
Since this plant is still being used horticulturally, it is likely to continue spreading beyond its current range. Ornithogalum umbellatum is poisonous if not lethal to livestock and should be prevented from spreading into agricultural situations. Ornithogalum umbellatum produces new bulbs each year, and these bulbs are readily moved downstream to new localities. It has the ability to form locally dense stands along the edges of rivers and streams, allowing it to crowd out native riparian plants.
Documentation required: A specific photograph or mounted snippet of the flowers.
Best time for documentation: Spring.
Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Taxonomic information about the species
General information and map
Distribution and taxonomic information
Virginia Tech Weed Identification Guide
Brief descriptions and images
Bailey, L. H. 1949. Manual of Cultivated Plants. Macmillan, New York. DeMars, B.G. 1994. Star-of-Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum L. (Liliaceae): An invasive, naturalized plant in woodlands of Ohio. Natural Areas Journal 14(4): 306-307. Fernald, M.L. 1950. Gray's Manual of Botany 8th ed. American Book Co., Boston. Gleason, H. A. 1952. The New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York Gleason H.A. and A.C. Cronquist. 1991. Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern United States and Adjacent Canada. 2nd ed. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. Haragan, P.D. (1991). Weeds of Kentucky and the Adjacent States, A Field Guide. The University Press of Kentucky. Holm, L.G., Pancho, J.V., Herberger, J.P., and Plucknett, D.L. (1979). A Geographical Atlas of World Weeds. John Wiley and Sons, New York, USA. Holmgren N.H. 1998. Illustrated Companion to Gleason and Cronquist's Manual. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York. Magee D.W and H.E. Ahles. 1999. Flora of the Northeast. University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst. Mezev-Krichfalishii, G.N., Krichfalushii, V.V., and Komendar, V.I., (1989). Studies on the population biology of Ornithogalum umbellatum L. (Liliaceae) for elaborating a strategy of species survival in Transcarpathia. Tiscia 24,3-10. Moret, J. (1992). Numerical taxonomy applied to a study of some ploidy levels within the Ornithogalum umbellatum complex (Hyacinthaceae) in France. Nordic Journal of Botany 12, 183-197. Murphy, T.R. and Johnson, B.J. Weeds of Southern Turfgrasses. The College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Griffin, Georgia. Newcomb N. 1977. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. Little Brown, Boston. USDA, NRCS. 2001. The PLANTS Database, Version 3.1. (http://plants.usda.gov). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA. Uva, R.H., Neal, J.C, and DiTomaso, J.M. (1997). Weeds of the Northeast. Cornell University Press.