Two Showy Aliens

So far this year I’ve noted about twenty alien wildflower species blooming in the Piedmont. Checking through old records, I see that nearly one in four wildflowers I’ve found has been alien. It’s a depressing statistic.

Like the natives, these alien wildflowers run the gamut from tiny and inconspicuous to large and showy. The latter are usually garden escapees, of course – naturalized species originally planted for their ornamental qualities.

Of these, the two star-of-Bethlehem species, Ornithogalum umbellatum and O. nutans, might be the showiest. They are classified in either the Liliaceae or Asparagaceae, depending on which authority you consult.

O. umbellatum, common star-of-Bethlehem or nap-at-noon, is a bulb-forming perennial native to Eurasia, with a typical monocot look: the white-striped, dark green leaves are basal, long, and narrow, so that before flowering the plant looks like a clump of grass. The bright white flowers have six tepals with green stripes on the bottoms, and six stamens; the inflorescence is a corymb. It really is a handsome plant. I used to see it fairly often along the Billy Goat trails, but haven’t in the past few years, so I only have this old iPhone photo of the flowers to show.

Common star-of-Bethlehem is found in all but three Maryland counties, and is widespread in North America, occurring in all areas except parts of the mountainous west, and in much of Canada as well. It’s considered a class C noxious weed in Alabama and potentially invasive, not banned in Connecticut.

The second species, O. nutans (nodding star-of-Bethlehem), I see more of every year, even though it’s not quite as widespread in Maryland or North America. The leaves are similar to those of O. umbellatum, but are somewhat succulent with more pronounced parallel veins. The flowers are white, but a bit dull-looking, with a silvery-gray cast, and they’re borne on racemes rather than corymbs. Standing at almost two feet high, O. nutans is rather larger than O. umbellatum, and more easily spotted at a distance. The species is considered invasive in the mid-Atlantic.


nodding star-of-Bethlehem growing with golden ragwort and wild blue phlox along Billy Goat C

2 thoughts on “Two Showy Aliens

  1. I discovered your blog while researching the nodding Star of Bethlehem. I noticed them for the first time last year along the C&O Canal towpath. This year they’re everywhere along the towpath! I’m enjoying learning more about local wildflowers by reading your blog.

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