Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogal, Milk of hen - Ornithogalum arabicum


The name of the ornitogallo (also known with the name of hen milk and star of betlemme) derives from its inflorescence, in fact when closed it has a similar shape to a cockscomb; in fact the type species have panicles inflorescence, in which the small flowers bloom in succession, starting from the bottom; there are also species with roundish inflorescence or with single star-shaped flowers. These are perennial bulbous plants, originating in Asia, Europe and North America. They are also grown for cut flowers. The Latin name is Ornithogalum arabicum and it is a plant belonging to the Hyacinthaceae family.

The plant

The flowers of the Ornithogalum arabicum are generally light in color, white or cream bloom in spring; there are varieties with red, orange or yellow flowers; the bulb is of medium size and generally resists well to winter cold, even if it is advisable to cover the ground with dry leaves or straw, to preserve them from very persistent frosts. To obtain an abundant flowering it is advisable to periodically dig up the bulbs and thin them, in addition to adding a good dose of organic fertilizer to the soil; these operations take place in the autumn. The ornithogal does not tolerate prolonged periods of drought during flowering, therefore it is advisable to water periodically during the spring.

Cultivation methods

The species of bethlehem stars or hen's milk grow well in all well-drained garden soils. Their planting period is October or February-March while the planting depth is about 5-8 cm, leaving about 10 cm between one bulb and another. As far as light requirements are concerned, almost all varieties enjoy a sunny exposure, but they also grow in partially shaded positions.


The hen's milk plants reproduce through the bulb. It is possible to multiply the species also by seed but it is a rather long operation and it is necessary to have a lot of patience to be able to see the plant bloom, even years.

Variety of ornithogal

There are different varieties of ornitogallo exploited for cultivation and in particular we recall O. thyrsoides, O. arabicum, O. nutans and O. umbellatum.The nutans and umbellatum varieties are also widespread in Italy, especially in the Mediterranean areas. Ornithogalum nutans make large, hanging white flowers and bloom from March to May. The ornithogalum umbellatum also produces white flowers with green streaks but collected in racemes and the flowering occurs between the month of April and the month of June. The great peculiarity of the umbellatum, also known as the star of Bethlehem or white onion, is the fact that the flowers open in the morning and close in the evening, to reopen the following day with the rising of the sun.

Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogal, Milk of hen - Ornithogalum arabicum: Pests and diseases

It is a bulbous plant particularly resistant to pests and diseases, which is why cultivation is rather simple as it does not require special care and attention. One of the problems that can affect the plant is the presence of excessive humidity. In these cases, they are subject to attack by aphids. So pay attention to water stagnation and excessive watering. It is important to keep the soil always dry: in this way it will be easy to avoid such problems.