Bulbs Gift plants

The Sun Star: A Plant Worth Discovering

In my area, and probably in yours as well, garden centers are full of pots of so-called “sun stars” in early to mid-spring. These are actually hybrids of Ornithogalum dubium, a South African bulb. (The epithet dubium means “unlike others of its genus,” for it is one of the rare Ornithogalum species with orange to yellow flowers rather than white ones.) You may also see it sold as star of Bethelem (usually a name associated with hardier white-flowering species of Ornithogalum), snake flower, orange star (‘Orange Star’ is actually the name of a cultivar) or yellow chincherinchee. 

White-flowered varieties are also available. Photo: asa.co.il

The varieties sold as potted plants are genetic dwarfs, with upright stems of orange, yellow, peach or white flowers rarely over 10 inches (25 cm) tall over a rosette of short, straplike green leaves. 

If they’re sold in spring, it’s because that’s when they naturally bloom if produced in a cool greenhouse. 


For the longest possible bloom, choose a plant with only the first flowers open that is also showing a second flower scape. Photo: Francesca Raphael, ar.pinterest.com

Sun stars make charming low-care temporary houseplants. Once in bloom, the flowers can last for over a month—sometimes as long as 3 months if your plant produces several flower scapes. 

To remain attractive in the average home, you really only need to give them bright light and water regularly, enough so the potting mix is always at least slightly moist. Indoor temperatures are acceptable, but they actually prefer temperatures just a bit cooler than most homes: 62 °F to 71 °F (17 °C to 21 °C), so a bit of a temperature drop at night can help extend their bloom. 

By the way, don’t eat your sun star and keep it out of the reach of pets: it’s believed to be poisonous (many Ornithogalum species are). 

After the Bloom 

Production greenhouse full of sun stars. Photo: asa.co.il.

The garden center selling sun stars doesn’t expect you to rebloom yours. It’s supposed to be a temporary plant you simply toss into the compost bin when the last flower fades, but few gardeners can resist the challenge to try and “save” it, so here’s what to do.

After the flowers fade, cut off the flower stalk. Keep watering as long as the leaves are green, but soon they’ll start to die back too, as the plant has a very long dormant period. 

When they do, stop watering and cut off the dead leaves. During dormancy, set the pot in a cool spot and only water minimally, just enough to keep the pot from total desiccation. Excessive dryness can kill the bulb.

Yellow cultivar. Photo: asa.co.il

Sometime the following winter, you should see a sprout appear at the surface. This is a clear sign it’s time to start watering more thoroughly again and to provide full sun if possible. Cool nights (45 °F to 54 °F (7 °C to 12 °C) and the same moderately warm days as above will help give you a nice, compact plant. Straggly, thin leaves mean it’s too warm. Take up fertilizing as well at about ¼ of recommended rate (an all-purpose fertilizer is fine).

Don’t be surprised if your plant blooms later than the first year, often closer to summer than spring: it seems to need to adapt cycle to the growing conditions you offer.

Gardeners in mild climates (hardiness zones 9 to 12, possibly 8) can try planting their sun star outdoors. It will do best in a Mediterranean climate, one with long dry summers and cool, rainier winters. 

Bulbs by Mail

Sun star bulbs. Photo: www.choicegardeningclub.co.uk

Some mail order sources offer sun star bulbs for sale in late fall and early winter that you can simply pot up and grow, giving you another way of obtaining this plant. 

Sun stars: striking small houseplants that can really light up your spring. They’re definitely worth a try!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, laidbackgardener.blog will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

2 comments on “The Sun Star: A Plant Worth Discovering

  1. You know, these are actually uncommon here. I do not know why. I have seen them about, but for some reason, they never became overly popular. To me, they looked like orange or yellow squill. I had not seen it in white.

  2. Wow, beautiful color of orange that you don’t see that often in flowers.

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