≡ Menu

Plants of the Bible: Dove’s Dung ( Ornithogalum umbellatum)

This  perennial bulb goes by many common names including star of Bethlehem,  bird’s milk, grass lily, nap-at-noon, summer snowflake, starflower,  and ten-o’clock lady.  It is native to damp habitats in Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East  and is a member of the asparagus family, Asparagaceae, that also includes lily of the valley, hosta, and yucca.  Plants  grow 6-12″ tall and have a basal clump of 6-10 grass-like leaves 6-12″ long.   The leaves begin to fade  when leafless flower stems appear bearing terminal umbels of 10-20 6 star like flowers from late spring to early summer.  Each flat, star-shaped flower is up to 3/4″ wide and has  6 lanceolate tepals that are white and striped green on the outside.  Flowers open from noon to about sunset and are closed on cloudy days. 

2 Kings 6.25 (KJV)  The Hebrew word חֲרֵייﯴנִים has generally been identified as dove’s dung, a bulb that is roasted or boiled before eating.   Other translations of the Hebrew word include “seed pods” and “wild onions”.

“And there was a great famine in Samaria: and, behold, they [armies of Syrian king Ben-Hadad] besieged it, until an ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver.”

Dove’s dung likes full sun to partial shade and average, moderately moist, well-drained soil in USDA Hardiness zones 4-9 but can not tolerate late summer rains.  Propagation is by offsets.  Plants are generally healthy but may develop bulb rot if rains come in late summer when the bulbs are dormant.  Dove dung is vigorous and is considered a noxious weed in some areas but is cultivated as an ornamental plants and is especially attractive in informal settings such as meadows and woodland gardens.

The genus name Ornithogalum, comes from the Greek words ornis meaning bird, and gala meaning milk and refers to the white flowers.  The specific epithet, umbrellatum, is from the classical Latin word umbrella, meaning umbrella, and refers to the umbrella-like shape of the inflorescence.