Lots of charming little flowers pop up in spring. Some are tricky to grow, others not very long-lived. But one that never seems to fail is spring starflower. The name is descriptive. The flowers, which arrive in March, are shaped like little stars.
One day the space under a tree is blank, the next day this little gem shows up. It never fails to delight, and I have been enjoying it in various places in Charlotte since I arrived here in 1969.
Because I find spring starflower to be so familiar, I am surprised when people ask what it is and where it comes from. Everybody knows tulips. Everybody knows azaleas. But spring starflower has never quite made it to the A-list of most-adored plants.
Well, I would not give up my camellias for spring starflower, but I would not want to go through March without it. Part of the appeal is its magical appearance out of nowhere. The bloom is shaped like a star with five points, white with a hint of silvery blue, and about the size of a quarter. The leaves are thin, narrow and bluish-green. It rises just 8 to 10 inches in bloom, making nice clumps for flower or shrub beds or odd spaces under trees. Some named ones such as Wisley Blue have blooms of a deeper lilac-blue.
This is not a bulb to string out single file over a long stretch. They look better in small batches of five to 10 bulbs, set where you will notice them no matter how bad the weather gets in mid-March. Unlike tulips and daffodils, the grassy foliage is so small it doesn’t look unsightly but quietly fades away.
The botanical name is Ipheion uniflorum, and it grows from a very tiny bulb that resembles a miniature onion bulb. It grows in sun or part shade. In the past some people have called it star-of-Bethlehem, but that is the common name of another flower bulb, Ornithogalum umbellatum, which blooms later in spring.
The simplest way to acquire spring starflower is as a gift from another gardener who is already well-stocked. Small clumps are easy to dig up, divide, move and replant. Try to keep soil attached to the clump as you transplant it. Seeds will also produce new plants, but, in my experience, not abundantly because they usually have to compete with the grass or get swamped by mulch. Some may get killed by weed killers used on lawns. A third method is to buy the little bulbs in the fall for immediate planting. Catalogs of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths often list them with their minor bulbs.
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