Friday, May 5, 2017

Star of Bethlehem is no Spring Beauty!

Ornithogalum umbellatum, star of Bethlehem, invasive exotic in the U.S. (not to be confused with native North American wildflower, Claytonia virginica, a.k.a. spring beauty)
Don't get too excited. This is not the spring beauty you've been looking for.

I'll admit it -- I was kind of excited when I saw what looked like a new white wildflower pop up a couple places on the property this spring - one clump in a garden bed beneath a crape myrtle, the other in a weedy patch of lawn next to the back sidewalk.

I tried doing some Internet research and tentatively decided it might be spring beauty (Claytonia virginica), a native wildflower in Tennessee and throughout much of eastern North America.

But something was bugging me about this plant ID. I took a closer look at my photos and compared them to those online.

The plants in my photos had six petals and prominent six-pointed structures resembling little crowns at the center of the flower. (Sorry that's not more precise. I'm not much of a botanist and always get anthers and stamens mixed up in my head.)

The pictures of spring beauty that I found online all show a five-petaled flower, often with pink anthers held far above the surface of the flower.

So unfortunately it looks like I have star of Bethlehem (Orthinogalum umbellatum). And although it's charming, it also has a (contested) reputation for behaving invasively. It may also be quite toxic.

So...looks like a shovel-pruning is in the forecast.


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