The name of this plant | Some spring flowers arrive on perennial grasses

The name of this plant |  Some spring flowers arrive on perennial grasses

“Now it is spring, and the weeds are shallow-rooted;

Suffer them now, and they will plant the garden

Weeds are smothered by lack of agriculture.”

—William Shakespeare, “Henry VI, Part II”

Watch out for weeds, both annual and perennial. Even in Shakespeare’s time, as now, gardeners had to be vigilant, and get rid of interlopers as soon as they appeared. Of course, they didn’t have expensive herbicides to spray everywhere. Maybe this is the way it should be now.

Now here are the spring herbs, perennials, that have emerged, and they are a wonderful little thing. It is an old garden plant, but it is not grown much these days.

When these plants suddenly appear in lawns, most people want to get rid of them. They tend to spread, especially by dividing their small bulbs. The plants only reach about a foot tall with a shock of narrow, deep green, odorless leaves.

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This perennial spring weed is typically naturalized east of the Mississippi River and is widespread elsewhere in North America, often appearing in vacant lots and meadows.


John Nelson


The stem will bear up to a dozen or more milky white flowers, each on a long stalk, very star-like. These flowers do not open until around noon, and then tend to “go dormant” at dusk, and will close overnight, opening again the next day. There will be three sepals and three petals, each with a prominent green stripe on the back. There are six stamens inside, the filaments being broad and flat at the base, and tipped at the end with a yellow anther. The ovary below is bright green, and eventually forms an angled seed pod.

The flowers look like they would be fragrant, but they are not.

This plant is closely related to lilies and is perhaps more closely related to what we know as lilies. Native to southern Europe and North Africa, it has long been cultivated in Europe and America in gardens. It is commonly naturalized east of the Mississippi River and is widespread elsewhere in North America, often appearing in vacant lots and meadows. Despite the charm of this garden plant, it does have a somewhat poisonous side. All parts of it are slightly poisonous, especially the bulbs, and should never be eaten.







Mysterious plant 2

This week’s Myster Plant grows to about 1 foot tall with a shock of narrow, deep green, odorless leaves. The flowers seem to have no scent either.


John Nelson


The scientific name refers to the flowers, and the genus name, taken from Greek, actually translates to “bird’s milk,” a name you won’t see in garden centers. This strange name comes from an ancient idea that white pigeons were able to produce milk and thus feed their young. The flowers of our mysterious plant are as white as doves, so here we are; It’s a bit of a stretch.

If you know this plant, you may have heard it called the ‘Star of Bethlehem’, a name that was also used for a very different spring flower – Tristagma uniflora, which is also in bloom now, but has bluish-purple flowers and very onion-scented leaves.

Answer: “Milk Star”, Ornithogalum umbellatum.

John Nelson is the retired curator of the AC Moore Herbarium at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. As a public service, the herbarium offers free plant identifications. For more information, visit herbarium.org, call (803) 777-8196 or email nelson@sc.edu.

    (Tags for translation) Botany

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