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How to Care for an Ornithogalum Plant

Beautiful focus image on cluster of white ornithogalum flowers

Genus Ornithogalum

Not all members of the asparagaceae botanical family look like asparagus. In fact, ornithogalum is a gorgeous flowering plant that is cousins with hyacinth flowers! The genus ornithogalum contains nearly 300 different species!

You may have heard of ornithogalum before, but under the common names of star of Bethlehem, star flower, sun star, chincherinchee, or snake flower. They get these names because of their flower shape, which is quaintly star shaped.

Gardeners love these perennials because they can be used in so many different garden applications. They are often planted as border plants, in a rock garden, in cottage gardens, and are a perfect container plant. They are also an impeccable cut flower specimen and can live up to 3 weeks in a vase!

Read on to learn all about the nitty gritty of ornithogalum plants, how to care for one, and some specific species to help you decide which one should be the next one to grace your garden or green space!

What do Ornithogalum Plants Look Like?

Sun shining through leaves of an ornithogalum plant with white flowers

Growth Habit

Starting underneath the soil, ornithogalum plants grow from bulbous roots. If we’re getting technical, you can called an ornithogalum plant a perennial bulbous geophyte.

These bulbs are basically storage facilities which contain all of the nutrients and moisture a plant will need to survive through the harsher months. This enables them to withstand drought and cold temperatures.

From a bulb will grow a tall and slender flower stalk about a foot tall. It will also bear several tufts of grass-like leaves and gorgeous flower inflorescences.

Leaves

Ornithogalum leaves are usually long, narrow, and lanceolate in shape. These leaves will usually grow basally and grow in dense tufts, giving them a very grass-like appearance.

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Each leaf will be either a glossy green, deep green, and sometimes lime green color depending on the species. These strap like leaves are only about half as tall as the flower stalk.

Flowers

And now for the real reason why everyone loves gardening: the flowers. Ornithogalum flowers will vary slightly from species to species, but what they all have in common is that classic star shape with 5 petals.

Flower color can be anything from white, to orange, and some often have a characteristic green stripe on the back of their flower petals. An ornithogalum flower has a delicate fragrance to it.

Ornithogalum flowers will usually bloom in spring or summer, again, depending on the species. When growing in warmer regions they will often bloom in the early spring, and when growing in colder regions then will bloom in mid summer or late summer, blooming well into autumn.

These are perennial flower bulbs, meaning that flowers will blossom year after year as long as the ideal growing conditions of the plant are met and maintained.

What are some Ornithogalum Species?

Beautiful bright orange star flowers blooming in the sun

Orange Star Flower (Ornithogalum Dubium)

The orange star flower also goes by the names of sun star or yellow chincherinchee, and this ornithogalum species is mostly native to Southern Africa. O dubium is a bulbous perennial plant.

Ornithogalum dubium can be identified by its brilliant clusters of 5-25 orange flowers (sometimes yellow flowers) and dark green or lime green foliage. Flowers will often blossom in the late winter to late spring.

Grass Lily (Ornithogalum Umbellatum)

Sometimes called the grass lily, nap-at-noon, or eleven o’clock lady, o umbellatum is a bulbous perennial that is native to southern and central Europe.

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Ornithogalum umbellatum can be identified by its white flowers that bloom in mid to late spring. These flowers open late in the day to reveal a green stripe on the backside of its flower petals.

Arabian Star Flower (Ornithogalum Arabicum)

The Arabian star flower is a ornithogalum species that is native to South Africa, North Africa, and southern Europe.

Ornithogalum arabicum can be identified by its incredibly luminous white flowers with a star shape, adorned with very contrasting bead like black eyes in the centre of the flowers.

O arabicum has flowers that bloom anywhere form the late spring to early summer and have a waxy sheen to them. They are contrasted by basal foliage of blue/green.

False Sea Onion (Ornithogalum Caudatum)

False sea onion bulb growing in the earth

False sea onion probably sounds like a strange name, and that’s because it is! It gets this common name from the fact that is grows from a bulb that looks identical to an onion.

From this bulb, ornithogalum caudatum sprouts out long, bright green strap-like leaves, and 3-5 foot tall flower spikes that bear small green and white flowers that are slightly fragrant.

Silver Bells (Ornithogalum Nutans)

Silver bells, sometimes called the drooping star of Bethlehem, is a lovely bulbous perennial plant native to southern Europe and southern Asia.

Ornithogalum nutans can be identified by its lovely, one sided raceme of 15 or so fragrant white flowers that are bell shaped. These bloom in the late spring and have the classic green stripe on the back.

Silver bells can also be identified by their foliage. They have bright green, strap like leaves that have a distinguished silver central vein on the backside.

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Giant Chincherinchee (Ornithogalum Saundersiae)

The giant chincherinchee is actually part of the ornithogalum subg scilloideae, basically making them slightly distant cousins. This is a perennial herbaceous South African plant.

O saundersiae can be identified by its numerous star shaped white flowers contrasted by dark and glossy green grass-like leaves.

Where is Ornithogalum a Native Plant?

Lovely sprouting white flowers of the ornithogalum plant

Okay, now that we’ve learned all there is to know about what they look like and some popular garden varieties, it’s time to learn where most ornithogalum plants actually come from!

Learning that native growing region on a plant really helps a gardener understand better how best to keep them happy in other places of the world.

With so many different species, these plants have a rather large growing range which spans all over Southern Europe, South Africa, North Africa, as well as temperate Asia and Madagascar. They have become naturalized in temperate North America as well.

Ornithogalum plants can exist outdoors all year long in USDA zones 5 through 10. Outside of these zones, they should either be grown as annuals, be grown in pots so that they can be brought indoors, or have their bulbs dug up and brought indoors for the winter.

What are the Ideal Growing Conditions for Ornithogalum

Plants?

Macro image of gorgeous bright orange ornithogalum flowers in the garden

Not only are ornithogalum plants beautiful, but they are also wonderfully easy to care for. Ornithogalum care can easily be incorporated into your regular gardening routine without a hiccup! Here are a few pointers:

Soil Type

Because of their tough bulbs, ornithogalum plants can adapt to many different soil types, but there are a few characteristics that will help it thrive in your garden.

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These plants seem to perform best when they are growing in very well draining soil that is organically rich and fertile. This can be outside or in indoor potting soil.

Luckily, there is one very simple step to achieving both of these things: compost! Incorporating compost at the beginning of the growing season will encourage proper drainage and increase the fertility of the soil.

Water Level

Watering your ornithogalum patch won’t take too much time out of your day at all. They prefer to live in medium moisture conditions.

This means that they can receive about an inch of water per week. Usually natural precipitation will suffice, but if there is an extended period of drought they will require supplemental watering.

Sun Exposure

Ornithogalum plants are sun loving creatures (much like me, writing this in the dead of Canadian winter, dreaming of sun bathing) which means that they should be basked in 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Though they are able to tolerate partial shade, these plants prove to bloom more enthusiastically when they are living in full sun exposure for the whole day.

Beautiful patch of white ornithogalum flowers in the sunlight

Temperature

Another awesome thing about ornithogalum plants is their tolerance to cold. They are pretty hardy plants (though this will vary slightly from species to species) but appreciate it when temperatures hover between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

They can exist in USDA zones 5 through 10 as outdoor plants, but should be brought indoors for the winter in all other zones. There are some species that are not at all tolerant to frost.

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Fertilizer

Ornithogalum plants also love to receive fertilizer! It is best to incorporate a slow release fertilizer at the beginning of their growing season. Otherwise simply incorporate some compost to the mix and they’ll be just as happy.

Pruning

Not much needs to be done in way of pruning your ornithogalum plant. You can deadhead the spent flowers to prevent it from going to seed if you’d like to control the spread.

Otherwise, make sure you leave the dying foliage! A dead leaf will help feed the underground bulb and provide energy for the next spring.

How do you Propagate an Ornithogalum Plant?

Small ornithogalum flowers sprouting out of the earth in summer

If you’re still here and you think you’ve got what it takes, we’ve prepared a few very simple steps to help you get your ornithogalum patch going! This is best done by planting flower bulbs.

1. Planting ornithogalum bulbs can wait until the fall, that way they will be ready for spring flowering.

2. Pick a spot on your property that receives full sun and has well draining soil.

3. Dig holes that are about 3-6 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart from one another. Place an ornithogalum bulb in each hole with the pointed end facing up.

4. Water thoroughly after you’ve filled in the holes. While the plant is getting established, water lightly until the top growth emerges. Then you can water more generously.

And there you have it! All of the information you could possibly need to have a successful and happily flowering patch of ornithogalum plants! We’re sure that this flowering plant species will be at the top of your spring plant list.

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Beautiful flower spikes of an ornithogalum plant in the sunshine

FAQs

How are ornithogalum plants used?

Gardeners love these perennials because they can be used in so many different garden applications. They are often planted as border plants, in a rock garden, in cottage gardens, and are a perfect container plant. They are also an impeccable cut flower specimen and can live up to 3 weeks in a vase!

Are ornithogalum plants deer resistant?

Another positive aspect of planting an ornithogalum plant is that they are entirely resistant to grazing from larger pests like deer, squirrels, and rabbits.

What are the damaging agents to ornithogalum plants?

The majority of damage that will happen to an ornithogalum plant comes from being planted in improper soil. It is important that soil is well draining and not oversaturated as this can damage the ornithogalum bulb underground.

Do ornithogalum plants grow from underground bulbs?

Starting underneath the soil, ornithogalum plants grow from bulbous roots. If we’re getting technical, you can called an ornithogalum plant a perennial bulbous geophyte.

These bulbs are basically storage facilities which contain all of the nutrients and moisture a plant will need to survive through the harsher months. This enables them to withstand drought and cold temperatures.

Is ornithogalum a perennial plant or annual plant?

Ornithogalum is a perennial plant, which means that it will produce flower blossoms that will continue to emerge year after year as long as the ideal growing conditions are met and maintained.

Is ornithogalum an invasive plant?

In certain regions, ornithogalum is sometimes labelled as an invasive plant because its hardy bulbs and enthusiastic ability to self seed. A simple way to prevent this is by deadheading the flowers before they are able to go to seed.

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How often should an ornithogalum plant be watered?

Watering your ornithogalum patch won’t take too much time out of your day at all. They prefer to live in medium moisture conditions.

This means that they can receive about an inch of water per week. Usually natural precipitation will suffice, but if there is an extended period of drought they will require supplemental watering.

How tall do ornithogalum plants grow?

The flower stalk of an ornithogalum plant will usually only grow to be about a foot tall.

When do ornithogalum flowers bloom?

Flower color can be anything from white, to orange, and some often have a characteristic green stripe on the back of their flower petals. An ornithogalum flower has a delicate fragrance to it.

Ornithogalum flowers will usually bloom in spring or summer, again, depending on the species. When growing in warmer regions they will often bloom in the early spring, and when growing in colder regions then will bloom in mid summer or late summer, blooming well into autumn.

How far apart should you plant ornithogalum bulbs?

Dig holes that are about 3-6 inches deep and 4-6 inches apart from one another. Place an ornithogalum bulb in each hole with the pointed end facing up.

Do ornithogalum plants need to be pruned?

Not much needs to be done in way of pruning your ornithogalum plant. You can deadhead the spent flowers to prevent it from going to seed if you’d like to control the spread.

Otherwise, make sure you leave the dying foliage! A dead leaf will help feed the underground bulb and provide energy for the next spring.

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What is the ideal soil type for an ornithogalum plant?

Because of their tough bulbs, ornithogalum plants can adapt to many different soil types, but there are a few characteristics that will help it thrive in your garden.

These plants seem to perform best when they are growing in very well draining soil that is organically rich and fertile. This can be outside or in indoor potting soil.

Luckily, there is one very simple step to achieving both of these things: compost! Incorporating compost at the beginning of the growing season will encourage proper drainage and increase the fertility of the soil.

Are ornithogalum plants shade tolerant?

Ornithogalum plants are sun loving creatures (much like me, writing this in the dead of Canadian winter, dreaming of sun bathing) which means that they should be basked in 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Though they are able to tolerate partial shade, these plants prove to bloom more enthusiastically when they are living in full sun exposure for the whole day.

What USDA zones can ornithogalum plants grow in?

With so many different species, these plants have a rather large growing range which spans all over Southern Europe, South Africa, North Africa, as well as temperate Asia and Madagascar as well. They have become naturalized in temperate North America as well.

Ornithogalum plants can exist outdoors all year long in USDA zones 5 through 10. Outside of these zones, they should either be grown as annuals, be grown in pots so that they can be brought indoors, or have their bulbs dug up and brought indoors for the winter.

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Can ornithogalum be grown in pots?

Ornithogalum plants can easily be grown in pots as long as those pots have a good drainage hole, and if they are placed in a south facing window.