Star-of-Bethlehem: Pretty, but Toxic to Horses

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There are many plants that look nice, but are toxic to horses. One of those is Star-of-Bethlehem. In the following article by William W. Witt, PhD, a researcher in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Kentucky, we will look at this particular plant and learn more about it.

All parts of the Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum L.) are poisonous, especially the bulbs and flowers.

Star-of-Bethlehem is a cool-season perennial of the Lily family. It is native of Europe grows in the eastern half of the United States and portions of the Pacific Northwest. Star-of-Bethlehem grows well in pastures, landscape beds, gardens, fields and along roadsides. 

Star-of-Bethlehem is 10 to 20 inches tall in most pastures and is generally not noted until it reaches maturity. Leaves are narrow with a pale green to whitish stripe near the mid-rib. Flowers are a showy white with six white petals with a noticeable greenish stripe down the middle on the back of the petals. The plant usually blooms in April to May. The plant dies back to the bulb shortly after flowering. Seeds are small and seedling plants are rare in North America. Reproduction is from bulbs, which grow in clumps; bulbs are subtended with a fibrous root system.

Controlling Star-of-Bethlehem is difficult. Few, if any, pasture herbicides are effective on large, maturing plants. Extremely low mowing (two inches or less) will reduce flower production, but that is not effective in killing the plant since it reproduces from bulbs. Paddocks with severe infestations may need to be renovated by killing all vegetation and reseeding grasses. Small patches can be removed by hand or digging the bulbs.

If you saw this plant blooming in your fields or along your fence rows this spring or summer, consult with your local County Extension Service personnel to assist you in eliminating this plant before it has a chance to spread and bloom again next spring.