Ornithogalum

Family: Liliaceae (Hyacinthaceae according to some classifications)
Habitat: Southern Europe, Asia and southern Africa
Cultivation: Ornithogalums are sturdy plants, easy to grow. They need moderate watering, plenty of sunlight and regular fertilization in order to give the best flowerings.
Curiosity: Ornithogalum genus includes the longest species name existing for a plant: Ornithogalum adseptentrionesvergentulum, at 38 letters!

KEY FEATURES

The genus Ornithogalum, commonly called Ornithogalum, includes many species of bulbous flowering plants, native to Europe (a few species also to North America) and very common in commerce.

The common name of this genus is “Star of Bethlehem”, due to its star-shaped flowers, compared to the star that appeared the night of Jesus’s birth. The word “Ornithogalum”, instead, means literally “cocks comb”: this is the shape of the flowers, in fact, when closed.

Ornithogalums are capable to enter dormancy usually during the winter, using the bulb as a stock for water and nutrients until the arrival of the Spring, when the stems and the leaves start to sprout from the top of the bulb. In particularly dry years, if there hasn’t been enough rain, the bulbs are capable to skip the growing season, waiting for better years, and thus the stem won’t sprout throughout Spring and Summer.

Ornithogalums grow in a large variety of habitats: on sandy or clayey soils in woodlands and garrigas (open scrublands with evergreen shrubs, low trees, aromatic herbs, and bunch of grasses), shrublands, shrub-steppes, deserts and extreme deserts, mountain vegetation, fields and grassy-dry areas, waste ground, edges of roads and rocky terrains, vineyards and olive groves.

The bulb is usually up to 10 centimeters in diameter, smooth or covered in greyish-white tunics.

From the bulb arise a few long and elegant stems, with linear or lanceolate leaves growing mostly at the base of it and that can have different features, in shape and size, according to the species. In some species, for example, they are ciliated, possuing short hairs.

On the top of the stem sprout abundant inflorescences, sometimes arranged as a spike, but, most of the times, umbrella-shaped, from which bright, star-shaped flowers open, usually white or orange.

In some species, instead, the flowers are round, very large and sometimes bloom isolated from the others.

The robustness and the richness of blooms make them very appreciated ornamental plants and easily available. Flowers are often used as cutting flowers for compositions and bouquets. It blooms in spring or summer, depending on the species.

Some Ornithogalums are also edible: in particular, the bulbs were used after being cooked.

Ornithogalum genus includes the longest species name existing for a plant: Ornithogalum adseptentrionesvergentulum, at 38 letters!

VARIETY AND TYPES

The species of Ornithogalum nowadays recognized are more than 200. Here below are the main species:

  • O. amphibolum
  • O. angustifolium
  • O. arabicum
  • O. armeniacum
  • O. atticum
  • O. boucheanum
  • O. caudatum
  • O. comosum
  • O. concinnum
  • O. costatum
  • O. creticum
  • O. dubium
  • O. exaratum
  • O. exscapum
  • O. fimbriatum
  • O. fischeranum
  • O. gussonei
  • O. montanum
  • O. monticola
  • O. narbonense
  • O. nutans
  • O. oligophyllum
  • O. oreoides
  • O. orthophyllum
  • O. ponticum
  • O. prasinantherum
  • O. pyramidale
  • O. pyrenaicum
  • O. refractum
  • O. reverconii
  • O. sibthorpii
  • O. sphaerocarpum
  • O. suaveolens
  • O. thyrsoides
  • O. umbellatum

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TIPS FOR GROWING

Here are our cultivation tips:

  • You can grow Ornithogalum either in full sun or in half shade. In the first case it should be watered more often, especially in summer, in order to avoid the risk of bulb damages due to an excessively dry soil.
  • The resistance to cold varies greatly according to the species in question. Some resist even to short frosts.
  • During the vegetative season, between one watering and another, the soil should remain with a slight humidity in order not to risk drying up the bulb. Pay attention, however, not to water excessively, in order to avoid the risk of rottenness. During the vegetative rest, it is advisable to dig up the bulb and keep it in a dark, cool and dry place.
  • Use a rich but also well draining soil: excessive humidity damages the plant. The ideal is a peat-based mix, with a layer of draining clay at the base of the pot.
  • Fertilize once a month in spring and summer with a product for flowering plants rich in microelements.
  • Generally Ornithogalum should be repotted every 3 years. When repotting, be careful to maintain the plant’s loaf of earth and then add new soil.

The propagation is usually carried out through the division of the bulbs. The bulbs are to be recovered from the ground during the vegetative rest, cleaned up, left to dry and then kept in a dry and dark place. The eventual division must be done in spring, before burying them again.

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