April 19, 2023

I had a vacation week after the crush of Easter and decided to use it to go see family in Wichita.  My sister was also coming out from Maine, so Melissa checked several options where we could stay.  The room at mom’s place was booked most of the time and my brother was just returning from an extended trip and we thought it might be good to give them some down time before crashing at their house.   I have stayed in local inns not far from mom.  These are nice but staying in a motel means cramped quarters and usually increased travel.  Melissa checked online and found a nice bungalow in a historic neighborhood close to mom.  It had two bedrooms with queen beds, a modern kitchen with laundry, and Wi-Fi.  While it did not come with breakfast, it was half the price of the motels we had previously used.  My sister and I both pulled into mom’s about the same time and visited before taking the short drive to the rental.  We arrived at the house at night, and I was amused to see the clumps of flowers that had taken over the lawn.  When I used my Google identification app the next morning, I found the flowers were called Star of Bethlehem.      

When I looked online, I found Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) is a flowering perennial bulb that grows in clumps with narrow, grass-like leaves about 1 foot (30 cm) long.  Star of Bethlehem is native to Europe but escaped from cultivation and is now naturalized in North America, including the eastern third of Kansas where it is identified as a wildflower.  Flower stems emerge from the plant’s foliage in the late spring, each bearing around 10 to 20 star-shaped blooms that are less than an inch across.  The flowers open in the late morning and close once the sun goes down or during cloudy weather.  Star of Bethlehem has a fast growth rate and will quickly spread.  When used by gardeners, the bulbs should be planted in the fall for spring flowers.  The plant is considered invasive in some regions due to rapid growth and expansion.  Perhaps this may also be because the plant is toxic to humans and animals and is known to kill the cattle that graze the Flint Hills of eastern Kansas.

After the Star of Bethlehem flowers finish blooming, the plant looks like a mass of tangled foliage and is not particularly attractive.  However, as long as the clump stays green it continues to feed the bulbs through photosynthesis.  Eventually the leaves turn brown, and the plant goes dormant during the summer.  This leaves gaps in the flower bed and people often remove the dead foliage.  Many gardeners plug these gaps with annual plants, while others grow perennials next to the Star of Bethlehem plants that fill in the space as summer progresses.  Deadheading the spent flowers does not prompt additional blooming, but it does limit the spread of the plant by eliminating the seeds that quickly volunteer new plants wherever they fall.  The bulbs also multiply prolifically, producing what are referred to as offsets or bulbils.  In many states, this plant earns a severe “Do Not Plant” warning against invasiveness, and you are advised to check with local experts before planting Star of Bethlehem in your garden.  I do not know if the species was planted by someone in this historic neighborhood, but it has taken hold of this and every front yard on the block.  They are no doubt removed by the residents with the first mowing.

Thoughts:  A folktale tells the species got its start as fragments of the biblical Star of Bethlehem fell from the sky and took root as Ornithogalum plants.  The random pattern of growth reminded me of the grape hyacinth that arrive in my own yard every spring until I finally mow them down.  They are also invasive and plentiful.  Even being invasive, I do not mind the color added by the flowers.  At least the hyacinth will not kill myself or my dogs.  Humans tend to justify and tolerate most anything, until they do not.  Act for all.  Change is coming and it starts with you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s