Notes from Trenoweth

Chincherinchees, South African Star of Bethlehem

More Chincherinchees are being seen on St. Mary’s each summer since we introduced this flower crop 7 years ago, and more people are appreciating its pure white, long-lasting blooms. This is another bulbous introduction from the Cape area of South Africa and its winter growing season, during which it is intolerant of frost, is suited to conditions on Scilly. Its Latin name Ornithogalum thyrsoides, is derived from the Greek, "birds milk" which may relate to the whiteness of the flowers, whilst a thyrse is the botanical name for a pyramidal flower head, with the many buds in a neat spiral, rather like an ear of wheat. The common name chincherinchee is based upon the African name which is said to describe the sound of the wind rustling the dried flower stems.

The natural flowering season is June – early July, but we are trying to extend this by storing the bulbs and delaying planting. The same technique has been applied to bulbs which are sold for spring planting. Interestingly, this is another example of a bulb which responds to smoke treatment and so we use burning over to break the summer dormancy. Without this treatment the bulbs often miss a whole season’s growth.

Fortunately the plants are unpalatable to rabbits and with our conditions obviously favouring this crop we can expect to see more locally grown chincherinchees in future.

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