Basic Plant Identification: Part 2

Star of Bethlehem
What am I?? My key number is 6 – 2 – 3

It has been a while since I have seen this flower and I could not remember what it was.  Since it was plentiful I dug one up and examined it.  The base reminded me of an onion type plant:  white, bulb like, with thin green leaves coming from the base. But the flower was not typical of onions which are more like a puff ball. If you ever grew chives and let them go to flower, then this will sound familiar to you.

So I decided to key out the plant and fortunately, this was a very easy one to do.  Using my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide that I discussed in an earlier post, I had to look up three characteristics of this plant and apply the appropriate “key” number for each characteristic. 

Key from Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide

First, what is the type of flower.  This type of flower is “regular”, meaning it is radically symmetrical. If you cut the flower in half, each half would look the same. Think of a young child’s drawing of a flower with a center and petals coming off the center. Because this flower has six petal, the key tells me to assign a number “6”.

Next they ask what is the plant type.  It is a wildflower but this category also asks about the plant leaves. They are not opposite or whorled as discussed in part 1.   The leaves seem to be growing out of the bottom of the plant. These are called basal leaves. Another great example of basal leaves is our friend the dandelion. Next time one creeps up in your yard, take a look at the leaves growing out of the bottom. The key above tells me to assign my second number which is a “2”.

The last characteristic the key asks about is the type of leaves. They are not toothed or lobed like the henbit or purple dead nettle in part 1.  They are entire (no teeth or lobes) like the ginger leaves of a previous post .  So the key tells me to assign another number “2”

key 2
Key descriptions from Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide

So my three number key is “6 – 2 – 2” .  Now I find that number.  The key number gives me several other choices. Fortunately, there are not that many with this particular plant. The first description under that key number asks if the leaves are narrow. Since they are, I go to the descriptions under “narrow leaves” and it gives me a choice of flower colors. I go to the choice that says ‘white, pink, or greenish flowers’ and then look at that page. On that page, a number of flowers are depicted and my flower was among them. It is a Star of Bethlehem:  Ornithogalum umbellatum.  Now at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that when I pulled the plant the base reminded me of something onion related. Well, our Star of Bethlehem is part of the Lily family (Liliaceae) and so are onions.

4 thoughts on “Basic Plant Identification: Part 2

  1. I loved this. In high school we had a biology teacher named Miss Emma Pflugfelder, who took us on outdoor field trips of discovery. She made her own booklet, a tree guide, which helped you identify species through this twenty questions approach.

    Stay well, Diane and Rich! Anders


    1. Hey yooz! I have been thinking of you and Nikki. Yes, there are many ways to key things out and I would love to know your teacher’s method. This guide poses a bit of a challenge here because it is written for a more northern region but it still is my favorite. Hope to chat soon. Xo


  2. I just love the way the sequence progresses logically and the answer is narrowed down and found. It is soothing and orderly, this process. And the flower is pretty and the name is beautiful. Do you know why it is called Star of Bethlehem? I enjoy finding out the origins of colloquial plant names.


  3. Hi Claudia, I looked in a few of my field guides but could not find any information about why it is named Star of Bethlehem. I did find out that it is poisonous!


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