Star of Bethlehem Sanchus oleraceus
IDENTIFICATION – Star of Bethlehem was originally introduced and grown for sale as an ornamental plant, and is still available from nurseries in some areas. It escaped cultivation around 1940 and is now naturalized everywhere except the desert Southwest. This bulbous, 12-in.-tall perennial is related to wild garlic, but without garlic’s distinctive odor or edible quality. All parts of the plant are poisonous.
The 1/2- to 1-1/2-in. bulbs send up straplike dark-green foliage in February. Shortly after the first leaves appear, tall leafless stalks emerge that support several star-shaped flowers with six white petals. Every part of the plant dies back to the underground bulb by the middle of May.
FAVORITE CONDITIONS – The plant thrives in part shade along stream banks and irrigated fields, as well as in cultivated lawns and gardens. Seed propagation is rare. They normally spread by forming clumps of bulblets which break off the parent plant.
CONTROL – Because star of Bethlehem grows and dies back rather quickly, control is difficult. Glyphosate herbicides, such as Roundup®, will kill the foliage but not the bulbs. Those must be removed by digging at least 6 in. out from and below a clump. Fortunately, this invasive plant does produce good-looking flowers you can cut and display while you’re working to eliminate them from the soil in the garden.