You Can Grow That: Potted Ornithogalum

The predominant color here in northwest Indiana is white. There is about a foot of snow on the ground and it's still coming down. Breaking up the monotony inside are two beautiful bloomers that seem to be in it for the long haul.
I bought a potted and budded Ornithogalum (commonly known as star of Bethlehem) a week or so before Christmas, and it's been going strong ever since.  The first thing I noticed was that the bulbs had been jammed very tightly into the pot. Like many pot-grown bulbs, this one likes to be crowded.

Of course, I like to know what I'm growing, exactly, so I first looked on my heavily-laden garden book shelves.
One of the most in depth books on bulbs is  Buried Treasures: Finding and Growing the World's Choicest Bulbs by Latvian plantsman Janis Ruksans. Although he mentions and features photos of more than a dozen species of Ornithogalum, none resemble the plant I'm growing. With a little more digging, I learned that the plant in my pot originates from Africa, and Ruksans traveled Eastern Europe and Central Asia, finding several species in Turkey as well as on the Crimean peninsula, home to the rarest species of Cyclamen, C. kuznetzovii, which is perhaps a story for another time.

There are more than 100 species of Ornithogalum, but the one most American gardeners know about is a noxious weed. Ornithogalum umbellatum is indeed one you don't want in your garden, and is considered an invasive plant in 10 states. Its common names are not flattering and include "dove's dung" and "sleepy dick."  It spreads both by seed and by small offsets that form at the base of the main bulb. When they break off they form a new plant, which makes them nearly impossible to eradicate. But that doesn't mean the whole genus should be painted with the same brush.
O. umbellatum (Wikipedia)

I am really liking the long bloom of this Ornithogalum, which is likely a hybrid. My online search hit pay dirt on the website of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, which had a very detailed description of O. thyrsoides and O. conicum, both of which are used in the cut and potted flower trade. The plant I have resembles O. conicum more than O. thyrsoides because of its spike formation.

The three photos below show the sheer bloom power of my potted Ornithogalum, which shows no sign of slowing down. Of course, I'll try to get it to rebloom next winter, leading me to research this little plant even further. Look for your own pot of Ornithogalum at your supermarket, which is where I found mine. And enjoy it for at least a month.

I haven't written for awhile, but wanted to get back at it in honor of You Can Grow That! where bloggers from all over the world write about their experiences with growing plants, and the numerous perks and benefits to our health and sense of well-being.  (I feel better already.)


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