Be careful of no-smell look alike weed

Q: What is this weed? I thought it was wild garlic or onion, but it does not smell?

Jessica from Columbiana

A: Since there is no smell to the plant and the plant is green and vigorously growing this time of year, it is Star of Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum). The lack of a smell is the easy way to tell this plant apart from its lookalikes.

Wild garlic has hollow stems like star of Bethlehem. Wild onions have a flat leaf. Star of Bethlehem has a distinctive white midrib that can be missed if not observed closely.

Both wild garlic and wild onion can come up in clumps, but are more likely to emerge sporadically with one to two stems emerging away from the clump. My observations of Star of Bethlehem have been of plants emerging in large clumps of leaves in one spot, then another set in one spot.

This plant is sometimes sold as a spring blooming bulb. The flower has six petals and is a stunning, bright white color against the bare ground or mulched areas in April each year. But beware. It spreads like wildfire and will become a persistent weed in flower beds and the lawn for many, many years.

After blooming, the plant’s leaves fade away and are not seen through the summer months. Thus, you may think you have controlled the plant, only to see it emerge again the next spring.

To eliminate this common weed, care needs to be taken in removing the entire bulb. Many gardeners try to pull this plant. Pulling the plant as a control option simply leaves the bulb in place with plenty or reserves to continue growing.

Digging is an option and should result in the removal of the larger bulbs. But, doing this may leave smaller bulblets in the soil to emerge as plants early next spring. Thus, elimination of this weed will most likely take more than one season.

More details on control options and herbicide options are available at:

If choosing a herbicide, be sure to read and follow all label directions. Note that some herbicides may persist in the garden, and thus are not a good option, as they will affect the growth of desirable plants in the area.

There are great photos of this weed, including photos of the entire plant at:

Eric Barrett is OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources in Mahoning County. Call the office plant and pest clinic at 330-533-5538 to submit your questions. Regular clinic hours are 9am to noon Mondays and Thursdays.

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