Ornithogalum--PBS TOW

Jane McGary janemcgary@earthlink.net
Mon, 02 Dec 2002 10:15:06 PST
I grow only the group of Ornithogalum species described as follows in
Alberto Castillo's introduction:

>C) The autumn-winter-spring growers from the countries around the 
>Mediterranean Sea, mostly Spring bloomers. They demand sunlight and cool 
>growing conditions and are hardy to very hardy.

I've tried a few of the South African species outdoors but they did not
survive the winters here, where typical lows are around 15 F/minus 10 C,
with much lower temperatures about every four years. Only O. dubium is
ornamental enough to merit greenhouse space, and bulbs I have purchased
have not been healthy (I believe it is susceptible to virus), so I don't
have it now.

The species I am growing in the garden and/or bulb frame are: Oo. balansae
(syn. oligophyllum), chionophilum, fimbriatum, lanceolatum, longibracteatum
(S. African), narbonense, nutans (received as O. arcuatum), orthophyllum,
platyphyllum, ponticum, pyrenaicum, reverchonii, sintenisii, sphaerocarpum,
umbellatum, and an unidentified sp. from Thessaly. Some of these names may
represent overlapping entities, since I grew a lot of them from seed
purchased from Czech collectors, who often use Russian floras that don't
coincide entirely with western European lists. All these species can
withstand at least a few degrees of frost, and some (e.g., nutans,
orthophyllum, ponticum, pyrenaicum, umbellatum) are undoubtedly hardy to at
least zero F/minus 18 C. O. umbellatum, commonly called "Star of
Bethlehem," is naturalized in parts of the USA.

The most interesting to me are those that flower on very short stems, such
as O. balansae and O. fimbriatum. These are slow to increase and would be
appropriate for a mild-climate rock garden. O. orthophyllum is like a
short-stemmed version of O. umbellatum. O. reverchonii is often regarded as
the gem of the genus (perhaps because it is rare in the wild?), but its
foliage is not too attractive (it is a crevice plant in nature and hangs
down). O. nutans has pendent flowers with gray-green stripes on the
outside, subtly attractive. The most ornamental for the border are O.
narbonense and the similar but less amenable O. ponticum, which are rather
tall with bright white flowers in a long spike. The green O. pyrenaicum is
very easily grown and appealing as a curiosity. O. umbellatum is most
useful for naturalizing in rough grass.

In summary, the Eurasian ornithogalums, all white or green flowered, fall
into three general groups in terms of form: short ones, tall ones with
broad racemes, and tall ones with long, slender racemes. They are easily
grown from seed, which is usually set by garden plants though not always in
abundance. Some increase rapidly by offsets, and others don't. They do not
seem to be attacked by any pests, including slugs and rodents, so they are
good "insurance" if the showier bulbs get eaten. The tall ones tend to
flower in late spring or early summer (O. ponticum is the last to bloom)
and the short ones in late winter.

Jane McGary
Northwest Oregon, USA

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