Today’s entry was written by Claire:
Our photograph today was provided by Sean Rangel of Seattle (aka SeanRangel@Flickr) via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool. Thank you Sean! Sean is also the photographer behind www.baublegraphy.com.
The common name of Ornithogalum arabicum is star of Bethlehem, named for the lovely white flowers this species produces. It belongs to the Asparagaceae (though listed as Liliaceae or Hyacinthaceae in references that use different family classifications). Its subfamily, Scilloideae, contains only herbaceous perennials with bulbs.
Though species of Ornithogalum are native to Eurasia and Africa, these monocots are popular ornamental plants around the world (the most commonly cultivated being Ornithogalum umbellatum, which sometimes escapes the garden and becomes an aggressive introduced species). Ornothogalum arabicum, itself native to Mediterranean areas, is one of about one hundred to one hundred and fifty species in this genus. Some members of the genus are edible, while others are toxic. For an edible example, young inflorescences of bath asparagus or Ornithogalum pyrenaicum can be eaten much like asparagus. However, Ornothogalum arabicum and other species contain toxins (often concentrated in the bulbs or the flowers) such as alkaloids and cardenolides (the same group of steroid toxins employed by monarch butterflies as a disincentive for predators or the heart block inducing poisons of Digitalis).
The delicate flowers of this species are fragrant and bee-pollinated. Local gardeners will be disappointed to learn that Ornithogalum arabicum is marginally hardy (at best) and enjoys low to moderate soil moisture with bright sunlight, making it a poor choice for growing outdoors in Vancouver.
For additional photographs of members of the genus, see Ornithogalum via the Pacific Bulb Society. A Close-up View of Three Ornithogalum Flowers provides an excellent photographs and photomicrographs.