Monday 29 March 2021

Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem, Gagea lutea

We are lucky in Shropshire to have a few populations of the delightful Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem Gagea lutea.  It is described by the BSBI as a "bulbous perennial herb of moist, base-rich, shady habitats including woods, hedgerows, limestone pavements, pastures, riverbanks and stream banks; sometimes washed down on alluvium in riverine woodland subject to seasonal flooding, mainly lowland."  Populations are mostly small and widely scattered in the UK and the species is on the Vascular Plant Red List for Great Britain as Least Concern.  

Gagea lutea is a rare plant in Shropshire restricted to a handful of sites in base rich open woodland, W8 Fraxinus excelsior Ash woodland, including on the limestone of north west Shropshire and streamsides south west of Bridgnorth.

Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem Gagea lutea

It flowers in March, so now is the time to look for it.  It can be a shy flowerer, and if not flowering can be easily overlooked as the leaves are strap shaped and very similar to Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scripta with which it often grows.  The two species can be told apart by the 3-5 ridges on the back of the leaf of Gagea, which is a brighter green and narrower: 

Underside of Bluebell leaf bottom and Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem, top

Bluebell, Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem and Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa

The photo below, shows the precarious site on a mobile sandy river bank on which there was a population south west of Bridgnorth in 2017, hopefully it is still there:

Wooded river bank habitat of Gagea lutea, south Shropshire

Gagea lutea in open calcareous woodland, north Shropshire near Llanymynech

Ruth went to check on the populations local to her, this March in north Shropshire and was pleased to find it flowering well:

Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem Gagea lutea, 27th March 2021, photo Ruth Dawes

If you do manage to see this lovely plant, please send in your records plus a photograph, an accurate 8 figure grid reference and an assessment of population size, to the v.c.40 recorder: Dr Sarah Whild