Everything to Know About Star of Bethlehem Flower

The Star of Bethlehem Flower or Ornithogalum umbellatum is a winter bulb that belongs to the Lily Family. This winter bulb blooms late in spring or early in summer. The Star of Bethlehem is indigenous to the Mediterranean and is quite similar to that of the wild garlic.

This winter bulb also has arching leaves like the wild garlic but doesn’t have the garlic odor when it’s crushed. The flowers of Star of Bethlehem, when in bloom are attractive for a few weeks but have somehow escaped cultivation in a number of areas. Soon after, the Star of Bethlehem becomes endangers to other native plant life.

This plant can easily and quickly take over other ornamental bulbs if they are planted in beds. In the beginning, it is attractive to add the Star of Bethlehem in your garden for their attractive, small, star-shaped flowers. But after a while, it could ruin your other plants with how fast it outperforms and takes over them.


As such, it is best to plant them in containers or in areas where they are confined. Some people even agree that this is best not to be planted at all. They consider the plant as a noxious weed and believe that it should never be planted at all. In fact, it is in the invasive exotic plant list of some states. The Star of Bethlehem is native to some areas of Southern Africa and Europe.

This plant is categorized under ornithogalum genus. It means it is part of the hyacinthaceae family and has about 150 other brother and sister species. This bulb grows on slender stalks and has grass-like leaves. Its name came from its beautiful flower. Its flower is shaped like a traditional star with 6 pure white petals encircling a pistil and 5 to 6 stamens.

The flower got its name from the star that was cited in the birth of Jesus Christ. Since the flower’s been associated biblically, the flowers were also associated with hope, purity and happiness. As such, the Star of Bethlehem flowers are commonly used as part of a romantic gesture as well as in weddings.

1. Growing a Star of Bethlehem Flower


Growing a Star of Bethlehem is actually quite easy as it doesn’t really need much care. The problem is that it easily gets out of hand, taking over your entire lawn or garden. What’s more, it is quite hard to get rid of. In maintaining a Star of Bethlehem, you only need to give it a full sun and fertile soil. The soil has to be moist but not muddy.

So the bulbs easily propagate, divide and plant them about 5 to 6 inches apart. If it actually starts getting out of control and overtakes your lawn or garden, removing the flower bulbs right off the ground serves as the best way of stopping it. Cutting it back won’t stop it from overtaking and it has high resistance to herbicides.

In that case, complete removal of the plant is the simplest and easiest action to take. One good thing to note about the Star of Bethlehem is it contains alkaloids. These could be poisonous to livestock and animals like cats and dogs. As such, you have to be really careful where you plant these bulbs. The Star of Bethlehem is also often called “the florists nightmare” because of their extensive shell life that could last up to a month.

Growing a Star of Bethlehem is best in fall. Facts say that this plant is hardy when in USDA Zone 3 and with mulch. On the other hand, it grows in Zones 4 to 8 and without any mulch. It should be planted in a landscape that’s full or mostly sunny. It can take about 25% shade and grows best when in a location with full sun. The plant has to be planted about 2 inches apart to a depth of about 5 inches base of the bulb.

It should be planted in an area that edged or lined so it can only spread so far. Before the seeds develop, make sure to deadhead flowers. Caring for Star of Bethlehem flower is not necessary except when preventing its abundant spread. If it is becoming prolific, removal of the entire bulb is the best way to stop the growth and spread of the plant.

2. Star of Bethlehem Flower – Etymological Meaning of the Name


A member of the hyacinthaceae family, the Star of Bethlehem or Ornithogalum umbellatum is related to onions and garlics. Its most common names include field onions, dove’s dung, wonder flowers and Arabian flowers.

  • Scientific Name Origins

The plant was thought to be the “Dove’s Dung” flower bulbs that were referred in the Bible. The name ornigathogalum is a Greek word which means “bird’s milk flower”. This was how the name of the flower was derived but its common name is the one with much more interesting origins.

  • The Legend of the Star of Bethlehem Flower


According to the legend, the Star of Bethlehem, the Star of Bethlehem was created by God to guide the wise men to the Christ Child. Its purpose was completed but God thought that it was too beautiful to be banished. So instead, it burst into thousands of pieces descending to the earth.

The bits of Star of Bethlehem then became the beautiful while flowers blanketing the hillsides. These beautiful white flowers were soon known by many as the Star of Bethlehem flowers. This was how the Star of Bethlehem flower is said to came to be.

3. Facts about the Star of Bethlehem  Flower


Facts say that the Star of Bethlehem can quickly take over the whole garden or lawn it was planted.  The plant could have been an attractive addition to your garden or lawn, at least at the beginning. It has such beautiful small, star-shaped flowers rising on stems above the draping foliage. But because it could out get out of control, many conclude that it should be planted in containers or in places where it may be confined. Otherwise, it’s best not to plant it at all.

4. Meaningful Botanical Characteristics of the Star of Bethlehem Flower


Historically, the Star of Bethlehem flower bulbs were boiled and eaten just like potatoes. Today, the flower bulbs continue to be eaten in some parts of the world. The ancients used to eat its bulbs either raw or cooked.

They have also been dried and eaten on pilgrimages and journeys.  The Star of Bethlehem has been reportedly used in relieving lung congestion, as diuretic and improving heart function, according to Wed MD. However, there was not enough scientific evidence in support of these claims.

5. Taxonomy of the Star of Bethlehem Flower


The Star of Bethlehem is under a genus of perennial plants indigenous to southern Europe and southern Africa. The bulb belongs to the family Asparagaceae and some of its species are native to areas such as Caucasus. The flowers grow from a bulb and have linear basal leaves as well as slenderstalk.

It can grow up to 30 cm tall and bears clusters of white, star-shaped flowers usually striped with green. The number of species of Star of Bethlehem varies considerably from 50 to 300 depending o authority. The Star of Bethlehem is a species of perennial bulbous geophytes and has basal leaves.

The species have the characteristics similar to that of the whole Ornithogaleae tribe since it is monotypic in that sense.  Strictly, however, the Star of Bethlehem is characterized by its long linear to lance-shaped leaves. Sometimes, it also has white longitudinal band on its upper side. There is an inflorescence that is could be corymbose or pseudocorymbose.

It has white petals with longitudinal green band that can only be seen on the abaxial or lower side. The Star of Bethlehem also has an obovate or oblong capsule and a truncate that has six noticeable ribs broken in section. Its seeds are globose with a testa that is noticeably reticulate, that is, with a net-like pattern.

It has ovoid bulbs that have either free or concrescent scales. The leaves of the Star of Bethlehem are believed to be caused of an interruption in the leaf’s palisade tissue in the central portion. This apormorphy was present in this clade’s early lineage but is similarly seen in a several species of Albuca.


Originally, the Star of Bethlehem was described by Linnaeus in 1753. It has 12 species and was placed under the Hexandria Monogynia, meaning six stamens but one carpel. In 1763, Adanson formed the Liliaceae family and the Star of Bethlehem was placed in this genus family.

The Liliaceae family is a very huge family and the Star of Family remained there until the family was dismembered back at the end of the 20th century. The family was revised with Allioideae genus, the onions family, now being included. Baker then revised the vision again by 1870s with the taxonomy of the family having become more complicated and vast.

The Star of Bethlehem was placed in the tribe Scilleae, one of the tribes in which Liliaceae were divided into. This tribe was then further subdivided into another seven subgenera. One of the subgenera is the Heliocharmos which corresponds to the modern Star of Bethlehem, in a strict sense, with other 23 species.

Later on, Betham and Hooker published a volume on Liliaceae in United Kingdom. It was written in Latin and was published in 1883. In the volume, the Liliaceae family was divided into 20 tribes with the Star of Bethlehem placed in Scilleae tribe along with other 19 genera. The book indicated that there were 70 species of Star of Bethlehem that existed.


In 1888, the taxonomic system of Engler of the German literature completed a classification of the Liliaceae family, divided it into 12 subfamilies and subordinate tribes. This placed the Star of Bethlehem within the Lilioideae subfamily and the Scilleae tribe along with other 21 genera. The Star of Bethlehem have 70 species existing were then further divided into six sections.

In this, the Heliocharmos section corresponded to Baker’s subgenus. There are four genera in the Ornithogaleae tribe and the Star of Bethlehem is one of them. The Ornithogaleae is the largest tribe in the Scilloidae subfamily under the Asparagaceae. Historically, the Asparagaceae family was treated as part of Hyacinthaceae subfamily, Ornithogaloideae, but they were both obsolete terms now.

Today, the Hyacinthaceae is treated as a subfamily of Scilloideae under Asparagaceae. Also, the original subfamilies under Hyacinthaceae now became tribes under the subfamily Scilloideae. Because of this, the subfamily Ornithogaloideae is now tribe Ornithogaleae. This is the taxonomy of the Star of Bethlehem.

Since the time of Linnaeus, at the very least, the precise taxonomy of Ornithogaleae or Ornithogaloideae has been quite problematic. The Hyacinthaceae has four major clades and Ornithogaloideae is one of them. It was subsumed the whole subfamily into the Star of Bethlehem with almost 300 species through a phylogenetic.

Reducing Speta’s 14 genera into one was not widely accepted and had several numbers. There were further analysis and wider sampling of 70 compared to 40 taxa as well as a third plastic region (matK) which revealed three ore clades (Clade A, B, and C) present in Ornithogaleae or Star of Bethlehem. As a result, new classification was proposed which includes three tribes as well as four genera.


Under this new classification, the Star of Bethlehem corresponded to clade C and was placed in the tribe Ornithogaleae. This was also further subdivided into several subgenera and sections which have 160 species. Also, in this new classification, Galtonia was retained but placed at subgenus level. There were suggested alternative approach of combining plastid gene sequences together with nuclear DNA sequences, biogeography and morphology.

This alternative approach supported that clade C contains Star of Bethlehem, according to Manning. It was noted, however, that the huge subgenus of Star of Bethlehem is still heterogeneous and was managed by being treated as seven sections. Manning’s lumping approach was reverted back to the separate genera or splitting of Galtonia due to the subdivision of the genus into seven sections.

Martinez – Azorin et al. purported a sensu strict classification which reduced the number of species back to 50, as it was proposed by Speta. With this, when considering the genus, it has to be examined whether it is sensu stricto which is Speta’s 50 species (1888), Martinez – Azorin et al. (2011) or as sensu lato or Manning’s much larger genus (2009.)

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