This Houseplant Deserves a Star!

A few weeks ago, a friend arrived for dinner bearing a potted plant covered with the most amazing orange flowers. It was supposed to be a gift for my husband, who had recently spent 12 days in the hospital (you can read about that on my other blog), but I couldn’t take my eyes off the huge, intensely colored blooms. I’m pretty familiar with most common plants, especially ones sold in pots, already in bloom, however I didn’t recognize this one at all. What in the world could it be?

Happily, the plant had a little plastic label designating it a “Sun Star Plant” from Trader Joe’s. They even gave the genus species: Ornithogalum dubium. Now I could look it up. Yay me.

Apparently, I’ve just been out of circulation. Also known as a star of Bethlehem, this was not a rare species, just under-utilized. Not only that, but it has received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, so you know it must be worthy.

The good news was the plant is easy to grow. It’s a bulb, so you can just plant it and water it and it will send up shoots and, eventually, flowers. After bloom, let the foliage die down naturally, then decrease watering and let the soil dry out while it’s dormant.

The frustrating news is that, since it is endemic to South Africa, the Sun Star is not at all hardy. (One “expert” says they’re rated for USDA zones 7 through 11, while another says 8 and 9. It may depend on how wet the soil is during the winter months.)

I was all set to order an entire flower bed full (my favorite bulb catalog carries them), as they’d be the perfect complement to my overly extensive use of catmint. Orange is my second-favorite flower color, mostly because it pairs so well with my favorite blues and purples. Oh well. I guess I won’t be growing them outdoors here in Colorado.

Still, this is one persistent houseplant. We’ve had it about a month now, and the blooms are still healthy and full. Plus, there are more flower stems waiting in the wings for when the current ones begin to falter, if they ever do. (One grower says the blossoms last about six weeks). As it prefers full sun, I put the pot on a table where it receives bright light, and I keep it damp but not soggy. The succulent leaves indicate that it would survive if I forget to water for a bit, but why tempt fate?

As for potential problems, apparently the plants are susceptible to thrips (a small sucking insect) and rust (a fungal disease), but I haven’t had any issues—perhaps because I’m growing my Sun Star indoors.

I realize that not everyone goes bonkers over plants. However, if you’re trying to come up with a hostess (or other) gift, I’d definitely recommend a Sun Star. Flowers are always in style, and these are among the best.

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