“Good” versus “Bad” Plants

I thought about this nature note while working in the perennial gardens at the arboretum. You get a good dose of what’s a “good” plant and what’s a “bad” plant while weeding in unfamiliar beds. Even I have to look carefully to determine which new sprouts are “OK”, and I developed most of the beds and chose the plants for them!

One of the “bad” plants is a spring-flowering, bulb-based, perennial lily commonly known as “Star-of-Bethlehem” (Ornithogalum umbellatum). It is a “sneaky” plant because its leaves look surprisingly like crocus leaves. The plant gets to be 10-30 cm high and has linear, channeled, green leaves each with a white line on the upper surface. It develops several star-shaped, white flowers, which are 1.5-2 cm broad. Each of the six white petals of the flower is backed with a green midstripe. Sounds pretty nice, right? Well, unlike crocus, it quickly becomes invasive and is a pest in lawns. Leave one now, and you will have 50 more next year. Much of the early spring weeding in the arboretum is spent digging up the bulbs of these invaders.

All parts of this plant may cause discomfort if ingested, the bulb is poisonous, and the sap may irritate the skin. A good habit is to wear your gloves while gardening to prevent irritations from plant sap, in general, and also to keep your skin from drying out.
By the way, after this Friday’s work day in the arboretum (3-5 pm), I will hang around to point out some of the “good” species we have there and if anyone wants to, we can then go down to the Western Walking trail and see what’s blooming.

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