LESSER STAR OF BETHLEHEM


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Species name:

Ornithogalum divergens   Boreau.

Author(s):

Alexandre Boreau
   France, 1803-1875

Common name:

Lesser Star of Bethlehem

Maltese name:

Halib it-Tajr Skars

Plant Family:

Hyacinthaceae   (Hyacinth Family)

Name Derivation:

Ornithogalum = 'Ornis' = bird; 'galos' = milk; hence it means Bird's milk. (Greek);

divergens = Spreading out widely from the centre, referring to the individual flowers with respect to the central stem. (Latin).

Synonyms:

Ornithogalum umbellatum L. subsp. umbellatum var. divergens, Ornithogalum paterfamilias, Ornithogalum umbellatum L. subsp. paterfamilias.

Remarks:

This species has not been reported on the Maltese islands for several decades and eventually, it was considered as extinct and reported so in the red data book. The author (Mr. Stephen Mifsud) has encountered this species on 2nd April 2006 in a garigue near il-Bosk, an area close to Buskett Gardens, Rabat. Other populations were found in the vicinity or in Buskett Gardens by others persons between 2002- 2006 namely Alex Casha, Timothy Tabone, Martin Psaila and Sdravko vesselinov.


Plant Description

Life Cycle:

Perennial

Habitat:

Rocky ground near arable land

Sources in Malta:

Very Rare; few species were reported recently after several years of disappearance. Locations remain undisclosed for protecting the plant.

Plant Height:

10-15cm

Flowering Time:

Mar-Apr

A small and low-growing perennial plant formed from a small, tunic-coated bulb. This Ornithogalum species differs from the others mainly in the growth form, since instead of producing a solitary tall scape of dense or numerous cluster of flowers, it produces few flowers which their long supporting peduncle diverge away from the next peduncle. They actually look as solitary, terminal flowers on a branched flowering stem.

This plant forms few, glabrous, narrow leaves (about 5mm broad) that grows out directly from the bulb. They are rather inconspicuous among other surrounding vegetation.

The white flowers are 3cm to 4cm in diameter and possess rather long stalklets (referred as peduncles) which are curved up for the upper flowers and straight for the lower ones. The number of flowers produced is few, between 2 to 6 and they do not blossom at the same time. Blossoming occurs during full sunshine.

The star-shaped flowers are composed of 6 quasi-identical tepals that are mostly non-overlapping (except slightly at their base). The colour of the upper-face of the tepals is all white but there is a conspicuous, broad green band at the under side. This green band is more broad in the lower whorl of tepals (= 'sepals') while for the upper whorl (= 'petals') the green band have a more decorated shape of a flame-tongue.

The flower have 6 erect, extrorse stamens encircling the central, superior ovary. Each stamen have a white filament with a prominent, triangular flap-like structure. It is broad at the base and tapering above. The filaments are broad enough that their 'flaps' are found touching each other, hence giving an overall impression of a small white crown around the ovary. The anthers are white or cream but not yellow.

The ovary is not a perfectly globose structure, as found in the other Ornithogalum species present in Malta, but instead, it is divided into 6 well-visible longitudinal lobes. The ovary is yellow and have a small central white style and stigma. The stigma had 3 swellings. The fertilised ovary develops into a fruit capsule that resembles an upside down bowling pin. Fruit ripen in May-June where it splits open into 3 parts to release the numerous stored seeds. No special means of seed dispersion is present for this plant. The seeds simply fall down onto the ground and maybe they are carried away by ants.


Photo Gallery

Photo of a plant in situ. Foliage not much visible since it is hidden in the surrounding vegetation, but the flowers are quite showy.
Photo of the beautiful flower of the Lesser Star of Bethlehem. This population was found in the South-West of Malta on the 2nd April 2006. The population of this site was never discovered before in Malta, and other populations of O. divergens were recent ely discovered during these last 2-4 years after being believed to be extinct for many decades.
Photo of 2 flowers of Ornithogalum divergens, star shaped and pure semi-glossy white in colour.
Side view photo of flower showing the underside details of the tepals. They have a green central band with a thin white border. In this specimen, the thickness of the green band of the outer whorl of tepals (=sepals) is wider from the inner whorl (=petals)
Photo of the star-shaped flower, with identical tepals and triangular stamen's filaments.
Photo of flower in situ. Just below is a young blossoming bud.
Close up photo of the central part of the flower showing its 6 stamens and a central pistil. Each stamen consists of a flap-like filament and white to pale cream anther. The pistil is made of a superior yellow-mustard ovary with a central erect style.
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Photos from Google Info Link 2 (in Italian)
Info Link 3 (in French) Info Link 4


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