Garden Notes: Star of Bethlehem very abundant, very irritating

Of Star of Bethlehem plants, Eleanor Perenyi, the author of “Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden” writes: “Don’t touch it. It will invade every part of the garden, choking out everything in its path, and, like many undesirables, is cunningly constructed to thwart easy extraction — the slippery foliage when tugged instantly separates from the bulblets, leaving them snugly far below ground.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources defines invasive plants as “those species that are not native to Pennsylvania, grow aggressively and spread and displace native vegetation. Invasive plants are generally undesirable because they are difficult and costly to control and can dominate whole habitats, making them environmentally destructive in certain situations.”

The first spring we lived in our house, beautiful white flowers appeared in the front lawn. I was delighted with the phenomenon. My husband registered the first complaint when the lawn needed mowing. The leaves were slippery, and he had to be careful to keep his footing as he marched up and down behind the lawnmower. And miracle of miracles, after that first mowing, the tiny white flowers came right back, twinkling away in our yard.

The assault to my perennials came next. I’d planted grape hyacinths and had visions of looking out our windows and seeing a great expanse of hyacinths. I thought I’d just open the window and their intoxicating scent would waft in, driving out the stuffy winter air.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Spring arrived minus the hyacinths. The white flowers had multiplied exponentially.

Like so many other plants, Star of Bethlehem is native to Europe and was cultivated in early gardens in North America. It didn’t take long to make its escape. Star of Bethlehem leaves resemble wild onion and wild garlic, but have no odor. The leaves also resemble grape hyacinths, and I think in my attempt to rid our yard of the invasive “stars,” I pulled the fragrant grape hyacinths, too.

Star of Bethlehem has been called many imaginative names. I’ve called it quite a few names myself, none of them nice. More refined gardeners sometimes call it “Summer Snowflake.” It’s a bright white star shape with six petals. The bulbs are deep, and you have to really dig down to get the mother bulb with her trillions of seed-pearl size baby bulbs. They reproduce at an amazing rate. They send up several, very narrow, very dark green leaves with a white center vein. In the heat of summer the plant dies back to plot its return.

Livestock left to graze in areas where Star of Bethlehem grows will eat bulbs brought to the surface by frost-heaving. They’ll die. There is no antidote for the toxic leaves and bulbs. That it’s an early bloomer and attractive to bees is the only redeeming feature of this plant from hell.

Each spring, when I look out the window, I do my best imitation of the girl in “Poltergeist”: “Theyáre ba-a-a-a-ack!”

Contact Teresa Futrick at