By Sue Leahy
Member-at-Large and Chairperson, PR and Marketing Committee
Wild Ones – St. Louis Chapter
Several years ago my husband, Andy, and I planted a dense hedge of native shrubs and small trees in the fall at the back edge of our yard. When spring arrived, much to my dismay, up popped a huge crop of Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum). This plant has leaves that look similar to crocus leaves, long and thin, with a beautiful star-shaped white flower. It is a member of the lily family and, like lilies, is toxic to humans and animals. This plant is native to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It blooms in the spring and then dies back, not to be seen again until the next spring. While beautiful, it is also quite invasive and I didn’t want it in my hedge. The mulch and newspaper I had put down did nothing to keep these from coming up. The leaves just searched around until they found an opening.
The research I did indicated that Round-Up had only minimal effect on this plant and the recommended herbicide was D2,4. I’m not in favor of chemicals and that was just too toxic for my liking, especially with all my new trees and shrubs.
The alternative? Dig them up by hand! So, the two of us spent two solid weekends on our hands and knees gently scraping aside mulch and digging up these plants. You can’t pull them. The leaves come off and leave the little bulb behind to regenerate even more the next year. We frequently had to go down 8-12 inches to get at the bulb and often found clumps of bulbs. We had tilled the bed before planting and think we inadvertently spread these bulbs by doing so.
The following year I, alone, spent one weekend digging up plants we missed the previous year. By the third year, there was just an occasional plant here and there which were quickly dug up and disposed of.
A word of warning: don’t compost these bulbs or you will have Star of Bethlehem in everything. Send them away in the trash.
This was definitely one of the larger bumps in the road of my native gardening hobby!