Ornithogalum Star-of-Bethlehem, Chincherinchee
Hardy and tender bulbous plants with star-shaped flowers in spring and early summer. They are found wild in Africa and Europe, and belong to the Lily family, Liliaceae. Their roundish bulbs vary from 3/4-4 in. in diameter and give rise to linear (long and narrow) or, in some cases, lanceolate (lance-shaped) green leaves. The flowers are borne in umbels (spreading clusters on the tops of the stems), or in the form of a spike. They are white or yellowish white, star-shaped and sixpetaled, and the undersides of the petals of some kinds are striped with a center band of green.
The hardy kinds are grown either in the rock garden or herbaceous border, or are naturalized in grass or under trees. The name Ornithogalum is derived from ornithos, a bird, and gala, milk; but the application of these terms is not obvious.
Treatment of Tender Kinds. Kinds of Ornithogalums that are not generally hardy in the North may be grown in greenhouses, window gardens and well-protected cold frames and, in mild climates, out of doors as recommended below for the hardy kinds.
Treatment of Hardy Kinds. These will flourish in a sunny or semishaded position in ordinary well-drained soil. The bulbs are planted in early autumn, the smaller kinds being set 2 in., and the larger kinds 4 in., deep. They require very little attention, and need only to be lifted and divided when they show signs of deterioration or become overcrowded. When planted in the wild garden or woodland, they may be allowed to spread in irregular drifts.
The Star-of-Bethlehem, O. umbellatum, is a fine plant for setting in large masses on the edge of a woodland or wild garden, where it will form a carpet of starry white flowers in early summer, but, as it tends to spread rapidly, it should not be admitted to choice parts of the rock garden. O. nutans, the Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem, is also useful for the same purpose. Its drooping spikes of green and white flowers, which have a silver-gray appearance, are 15 in. in height and are useful for cutting. It prefers light shade.
For the perennial border, O. pyramidale is suitable. It grows 3 ft. in height and has slender, upright spikes of white flowers. O. pyrenaicum, sometimes known as the French or Bath Asparagus, has small, greenish-white flowers in May and June, and may be used for naturalizing.
Treatment in Greenhouses. When grown in greenhouses, Ornithogalums require a night temperature of 45 degrees (for O. thyrsoides aureum, 55 degrees) and a soil compost of two parts of sandy loam, one part of leaf mold and a free sprinkling of sand. Repotting is done at the beginning of the growing season in September and October for most, early spring for a few. The bulbs are taken out of their pots, the crocks and loose soil are removed; they are then repotted in slightly larger pots. The new pots must be well drained. The bulbs are buried so that their tops are just covered with soil, which is made firm with a potting stick.
After repotting, the soil is not moistened until it becomes fairly dry, and the same procedure is adopted until the bulbs are well rooted. When growth is well begun, they are given water more liberally, and throughout the growing and flowering season the soil is kept moist. When the leaves begin to turn yellow, water is gradually withheld and the bulbs are kept dry until the time for repotting. These plants do well in a sunny window or greenhouse. Shading is not required.
Propagation. Seeds are sown in well-drained pots of sandy soil in spring or summer. The greenhouse kinds are raised in a window or greenhouse and the hardy kinds in a cold frame.
The seedlings of the hardy kinds are pricked off, 2 in. apart, into flats, and grown in a frame until large enough to plant out of doors in their permanent positions. Those for the house or greenhouse are pricked out into flats or seedpans, and, when large enough, are potted in small pots and subsequently in larger ones. New plants may also be obtained by division at planting and repotting time.
Hardy Kinds. O. umbellatum, Star-of-Bethlehem, 9 in., green and white, May; O. pyramidale, 3 ft., white, summer; O. nutans, 12 in., green and white, spring; O. pyrenaicum, 1-2 ft., greenish white, May and June.
Tender Kinds. O. arabicum, 2 ft., white, fragrant, summer; O. caudatum, 3 ft., green and white, spring or summer; O. longibracteatum, 24 in., white; O. thyrsoides (Chincherinchee), white, 18 in., winter.
The Chincherinchee (O. thyrsoides) grows 18 in. high, and bears white flowers. The flowers of this kind are imported in large quantities into the United States from South Africa. Although they are a long time in transit, they open when placed in water and last in flower for many weeks. This bulbous plant can be grown as advised for the other greenhouse kinds. Good varieties are aureum, golden-yellow; and flavescens, saffron-yellow.