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FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 26 | Liliaceae

61. Ornithogalum Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 306. 1753; Gen. Pl. ed. 5, 145. 1754.

Star-of-Bethlehem, ornithogale, dame-d’onze-heures, étoile de Bethléem [Greek, ornis, bird, and gala, milk, alluding to the color of the flowers]

Gerald B. Straley† & Frederick H. Utech

Herbs, perennial, scapose, poisonous, from ovoid, tunicate bulbs; bulb tunics white to pale brown, papery. Leaves few to several, basal; blade linear to lanceolate, margins smooth or hairy. Inflorescences racemose or corymbose, 2–many-flowered, bracteate; bracts white, membranous. Flowers: tepals 6, widely spreading, distinct, equal to slightly unequal; stamens 6, distinct, dimorphic; filaments simple or 3-dentate, flattened; anthers dorsifixed, introrse; ovary superior, green, 3-locular, cylindric to globose, 6-angled, septal nectaries present; style 1; stigma margins entire or indistinctly 3-lobed. Fruits capsular, angled, papery, dehiscence loculicidal. Seeds numerous, globose to ovoid. x = 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11.

Species 100–150 (2 in the flora): introduced; Europe, Africa, w Asia.

Ornithogalum is a large genus centered in South Africa and around the Mediterranean, with numerous species of horticultural note. Ornithogalum pyrenaicum Linnaeus was apparently naturalized for a number of years at Elkins, West Virginia (E. E. Hutton and R. E. Clarkson 1961), but it is now extirpated from that site. Ornithogalum arabicum Linnaeus, Arabian star flower, O. caudatum Aiton, sea-onion, and O. thyrsoides Jacquin, chincherinchee, are frequently cultivated in the warmer parts of the flora area.

The bulbs of Ornithogalum species are poisonous due to the presence of a variety of cardiotoxic cardenolides (G. E. Burrows and R. J. Tyrl 2001), and the bulbs should not be confused with those of wild onions.


Moret, J. and N. Galland. 1992. Phenetic, biogeographical, and evolutionary study of Ornithogalum subg. Heliocharmos (Hyacinthaceae) in the western Mediterranean Basin. Pl. Syst. Evol. 181: 179–202. Müller-Doblies, U. and D. Müller-Doblies. 1996. Revisionula incompleta Ornithogalorum Austro-Africanorum. Feddes Repert. 107: 361–548. Zahariadi, C. 1962. Caractères morphologiques, anatomiques et biologiques dans la taxonomie du genre Ornithogalum. Rev. Biol. (Bucharest), n. s. 7: 5–41.

1 Leaves 5–10 mm wide; inflorescences racemose, cylindrical, 5–12(–18)-flowered; lower pedicels to 1 cm; flowers nodding, especially after anthesis; filaments 3-dentate.   1 Ornithogalum nutans
+ Leaves 3–5 mm wide; inflorescences corymbose, flat-topped, (4–)8–20-flowered; lower pedicels 2–6 cm; flowers erect; filaments simple.   2 Ornithogalum umbellatum

Lower Taxa


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