Ornithogalum umbellatum L.

Star Of Bethlehem


CC = *
CW = 3
MOC = 47

© DETenaglia

Family - Liliaceae

Habit - Perennial forb, glabrous, from a bulb covered by a membranous to papery, smooth, outer coat, lacking the odor of onion or garlic.

Stems - Erect, to 35 cm, glabrous, 4 mm in diameter, unbranched below the inflorescence.

Leaves - Basal, 3-15, 6-30 cm long, 2-5 mm broad, linear, flat, grasslike, entire, glabrous, with a light green to whitish midrib on the upper surface.

Inflorescence - Terminal racemes of 3-12 flowers, with leaflike bracts at the nodes. Lower flower stalks 2-6 cm long, the flowers ascending.

Ornithogalum_umbellatum_inflorescence.jpg Inflorescence.

© SRTurner

Ornithogalum_umbellatum_bracts.jpg Inflorescence axis and bracts.

© SRTurner

Flowers - Perianth 1.5-2.0 cm long. Tepals 6, white above, white with green stripe below, glabrous, free, oblong to linear. Stamens 6, with the filaments flattened, not tapering above the middle, extending past the attachment points of the anthers as 2 broad, shallowly triangular lobes. Anthers yellow, 2.5 cm long, 1.2 mm broad. Ovaries superior, longer than the styles, with 6 ridges, 3-locular, many seeded, placentation axile. Style 1, 2.5-3 mm long, white, glabrous. Flowers highly nectariferous.

Ornithogalum_umbellatum_flower.jpg Flower.

© DETenaglia

Ornithogalum_umbellatum_flower2.jpg Abaxial side of tepals.

© DETenaglia

Ornithogalum_umbellatum_functional.jpg Stamens and style.

© SRTurner

Ornithogalum_umbellatum_functional2.jpg Stamens and style (tepals removed).

© SRTurner

Fruits - Ovoid to obovoid, bluntly trigonous capsules with few to no viable seeds.

Ornithogalum_umbellatum_fruit.jpg Developing fruit.

© SRTurner

Flowering - April - June.

Habitat - Forests, gravel bars, pastures, crop fields, lawns, roadsides, railroads, and other disturbed areas. Sometimes cultivated and escaping.

Origin - Native to Europe.

Lookalikes - O. nutans.

Other info. - This is a striking species, with showy flowers almost shining in their whiteness. The plant's range in Missouri is widely scattered. Although not particularly common, it can form populations of thousands of plants under favorable conditions. Crop fields in Warren County seem particularly susceptible to infestations of this species. In some areas it is considered invasive, though this property seems highly location dependent. Its U.S. distribution is likewise scattered, ranging mostly to the east of Missouri. The plant is easily recognized by its brilliant white flowers and grasslike leaves. It can be distinguished from the much rarer O. nutans by its longer flower stalks.

Some botanists now place this genus in the Asparagaceae (asparagus family). This is not to be taken as evidence that the plant is edible; in fact, it contains cardiac glycosides and should be considered poisonous. There are numerous online claims that the plant also contains "alkaloids," but credible scientific references to alkaloid content seem to be lacking. In any case, the plant has been responsible for deaths of livestock, particularly sheep.

The genus Ornithogalum is derived from Greek words meaning "bird" and "milk." The reasons for this are obscure but may be related to the bright white color of the flowers, and their resemblance, under certain conditions, to bird droppings.

Photographs taken by Tom's Creek, NC., 4-20-03, and near Charrette Creek, Warren County, MO., 4-17-04 (DETenaglia); also near Treloar, Warren County, MO, 5-13-2013, 5-2-2020, and 4-22-2022 (SRTurner).