Wild Flowers of Pittsburgh


Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum)

A European native that has made itself quite at home here, Star of Bethlehem can often be found in weedy patches of low grass. Until it blooms, its narrow leaves are hard to distinguish from the grass around them. The six-pointed white flowers are unmistakable, with six yellow-tipped stamens whose flattened “filaments” seem to form a miniature duplicate flower inside the larger one. This plant was blooming in early May in the Allegheny Cemetery, where it is regularly mowed but seems not to care much.

Although most traditional references place the Star of Bethlehem in the lily family Liliaceae, modern botanists separate it into the asparagus family Asparagaceae.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

ORNITHÓGALUM [Tourn.] L. STAR OF BETHLEHEM. Perianth of 6 (white) spreading 3-7-nerved divisions. Filaments 6, flattened-awl-shaped. Style 3-sided; stigma 3-angled. Capsule roundish-angular, with few dark and roundish seeds in each cell, loculicidal. — Scape and linear channeled leaves from a coated bulb. Flowers corymbed, bracted; pedicels not jointed. (A whimsical name from ornis, a bird, and gala, milk.)

O. umbellàtum L. Scape 1-2.5 dm. high; flowers 5-8, on long and spreading pedicels; perianth-divisions green in the middle on the outside. — Escaped from gardens. (Introd. from Eu.)


Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERALily of the Valley, a favorite ornamental ground cover for shady spots, is a frequent escape from gardens; it may sometimes mark old homesites, as a patch can persist indefinitely. It comes from the Old World, but it is also apparently native (there is some debate) to the Appalachians; if so, however, its native range is well to the south of our area. When we see Lily of the Valley growing in the wild, we may regard it as a guest rather than a resident. These plants were blooming in the middle of May deep in the woods in Bird Park, Mount Lebanon.

Gray describes the genus and the species:

CONVALLÀRIA L. LILY OF THE VALLEY. Perianth bell-shaped, white, with 6 short recurved lobes. Stamens 6, included, inserted on the base of the perianth; anthers introrse. Ovary 3-celled, tapering into a stout style; stigma triangular. Ovules 4-6 in each cell. Berry few-seeded, red. — Perennial herb, glabrous, stemless, with slender running root- stocks, 2 or 3 oblong leaves, and an angled scape bearing a one-sided raceme of sweet-scented nodding flowers. (From Lilium convallium, the popular name.)

С majàlis L. — High mountains, Va. to S. С. — Apparently identical with the European Lily of the Valley of the gardens which occurs as an occasional escape from cultivation elsewhere within our limits.


English Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)


The beloved English Bluebell or “Wood Hyacinth” is often cultivated, and occasionally escapes. The USDA PLANTS database records it as occurring in the wild in Westmoreland County, but this one grew spontaneously in Beechview in the city of Pittsburgh, where it was blooming along a fence at the edge of a yard in the middle of May.