By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Gardeners wait all winter for the first signs of spring in the form of early season flowers. These herald the approach of months of fun playing in the dirt and enjoying the fruits of that labor. Spring starflower plants, or Ipheion, are in the Amaryllis family of flowering bulbs. These charming little blooming plants hail from Argentina and Uruguay and form dense clumps of perennial flowers to chase the winter doldrums away.
About Spring Starflower Plants
The keys to spring flowers are good site location, soil drainage and preliminary bulb care. Ipheion bulb care starts with proper installation and soil preparation. Knowing when to plant Ipheion starflower bulbs ensures healthy plants that won’t get floppy and produce enticing spicy, scented flowers and attractive arching strappy foliage for years. Try growing spring starflower bulbs in rockeries, borders, containers and even under trees and shrubs.
Ipheion flowers spring from fall planted bulbs. They can get up to half a foot tall with a similar spread. Each bulb will produce numerous flowering stems with slender, deeply green foliage that emits an odor like an onion when crushed. Blooms are fragrant and star shaped with six blue or white petals.
The bulbs will continue to pump out flowers until the weather heats up, at which time the flowers stop but the foliage persists for several months. Over time, the patches of starflower will naturalize and can become invasive in some regions. Divide clumps every few years for more dense colonies.
When to Plant Ipheion Starflower Bulbs
Planting time is as important as knowing how to grow Ipheion starflowers. These bulbs need a chilling period to bloom. Spring’s warmer temperatures force the flowers out of dormancy. This means fall is the ideal time to plant starflower bulbs.
These plants are hardy in United States Department of Agriculture zones 5 and above. Choose a full sun to partial shade area of the garden and prepare the soil by tilling in plenty of organic matter to a depth of at least 6 inches. Soil should drain freely or bulbs can rot. Use a mulch over the planted area to prevent weeds and protect the bulbs from severe freezes.
Ipheion starflowers make excellent cut flowers and will die back naturally in summer, leaving plenty of room for emerging summer perennials.
How to Grow Ipheion Starflowers
Starflowers look impressive when planted in a mass. Dig holes 2 inches deep and the same distance apart. Orient the bulbs with the pointed side up and fill in around them with soil, tamping gently. You may opt to mix in bone meal or bulb fertilizer at planting, but these plants are low nutrient users and such practices aren’t necessary for good blooms as long as the soil has been recently tilled and amended.
Ipheion bulb care is minimal in spring. Once you see the first little green sprouts, pull away any mulch to help them emerge. Watch for slug and snail damage and deal with it with organic or purchased remedies. Squirrels are rarely a problem when growing spring starflower bulbs but if you have concerns, place a board over the area until late winter to protect them. Remove the board so new shoots can break free and access the sun.
Divide your clumps every few years. If plants become invasive, remove seed heads and divide annually.
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Ipheion Species, Spring Starflower
|Family:||Amaryllidaceae (am-uh-ril-id-AY-see-ee) (Info)|
|Genus:||Ipheion (IF-ee-on) (Info)|
|Species:||uniflorum (yoo-nee-FLOR-um) (Info)|
|Synonym:||Ipheion uniflorum f. album|
|Synonym:||Ipheion uniflorum f. conspicuum|
|Synonym:||Ipheion uniflorum f. roseoplenum|
|Synonym:||Ipheion uniflorum f. tenuitepalum|
|Synonym:||Ipheion uniflorum f. violaceum|
Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater
USDA Zone 5a: to -28.8 °C (-20 °F)
USDA Zone 5b: to -26.1 °C (-15 °F)
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)
Where to Grow:
Grow outdoors year-round in hardiness zone
Can be grown as an annual
Flowers are good for drying and preserving
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
May be a noxious weed or invasive
Soil pH requirements:
By dividing rhizomes, tubers, corms or bulbs (including offsets)
Allow seedheads to dry on plants remove and collect seeds
This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:
Citrus Heights, California
Huntington Beach, California
Stockton, California(2 reports)
Washington, District of Columbia
Wilsons Mills, North Carolina
MOUNT HOOD PARKDALE, Oregon
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Greenville, South Carolina
North Augusta, South Carolina
Summerville, South Carolina
On Mar 17, 2017, LazyGardens from Phoenix, AZ wrote:
Growing with no care at all in crappy sandy dirt in Central NM. it is where roof runoff may give it more water than the rest of the yard.
It's slowly multiplying, and I may buy more because it's pretty and easy to grow.
On Sep 28, 2015, ezinsser from Alberton,
South Africa (Zone 9b) wrote:
I planted some 2000 bulbs in 2003 in a shady area under the large kapok, walnut and mulberry trees. The area is in full winter sun (i.e. May, June, July, August) and the bulbs need a weekly watering from April until blooming in August. The leaves and flowers start wilting after September but I leave the bulbs in the ground despite heavy summer rains (from October to February). The plant height never exceeds 15cm and the masses of blooms are a soft purple-tinged white. They are only now beginning to spread to areas adjacent to the original planting area. Excellent companian plants are Leucojums and blue/white Hyacinths.
On May 6, 2015, tabasco from Cincinnati (Anderson Twp), OH (Zone 6a) wrote:
Location: Zone 6, Southwestern Ohio.
We have grown Ipheion uniflorum for ten years in a neglected spot in the garden that gets no irrigation and part sun and it has thrived. I like it because it's easy to grow and the critters ignore it. For best flowering, select a sunny planting site and, when planting new bulbs, set them about 3 inches apart and 3 inches deep, measuring to the base of the bulb. Late summer after the foliage has died down is the best time to move or thin them.
Ipheion blooms in our garden with purple allium, azaleas, median iris, early hardy geraniums, columbine, camassia, spring clematis, lily of the valley, and bluebells. Brent & Becky recommend planting it as a garden edging so we are dividing our clumps and trying that suggestion. read more for next year. Ipheions originally hail from Argentina and Uruguay.
On Feb 7, 2015, poeciliopsis from Phoenix, AZ wrote:
Central Phoenix -- Ipheion uniflorum was abundant in our yard when we bought the house in 1988. It is still present, although conversion of major areas to xeriscape has eliminated a lot of it. It does fine with the every other week summer water that keeps the Bermuda grass front lawn growing and is scattered throughout the lawn in full sun. It also still grows in a few watered beds. The foliage smells like onions when it is crushed.
On Mar 17, 2013, vossner from East Texas,
United States (Zone 8a) wrote:
I can imagine a blanket of these in a woodland setting but not in a regular cultivated garden--too weedy looking, IMO. I tried some but will plant no more. Instead, will focus on growing i. Rolf Fiedler, which is a showier blue and suitable for a residential as well as woodland setting.
On Mar 4, 2012, suguy from Simi Valley, CA (Zone 9a) wrote:
A long-time favorite bulb of mine and harbinger of Spring here in Southern California.
It starts blooming in mid-February.
I grow the blue-flowered species (uniflorum), a white one (Albert Castillo) and Rolf Fiedler (an intense blue with bigger blooms).
All are super-easy and delightful.
They naturalize here and multiply every year.
You can't have enough of these.
On Feb 21, 2012, david3payne from Lubbock, TX wrote:
Update from Lubbock, TX [elevation, 3250']
Microclimate! I transplanted one blooming clump
to the south-facing foundation of my neighbor's
house, ca. 2009. In January 2012, the clump was
in bloom in late Jan. and continued despite
snow and low temp. ca. 14F in early Feb.
Quite a color contrast with pink-flowering Oxalis!
On Mar 23, 2009, htop from San Antonio, TX (Zone 8b) wrote:
I have not grown this plant. Spring Starflower (Ipheion uniflorum) is an introduced plant that can be found naturalized in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Loiusiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
On Mar 23, 2009, eatmyplants from Comanche county, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:
I found these beautiful plants growing wild all along the banks of a creek. They are in full bloom now and have been blooming over a month. They are all growing in filtered shade and deep shade underneath trees, so full sun is not necessary. Some are almost white. They grow very shallow and transplant easily. I highly recommend them.
On Oct 14, 2006, dmj1218 from west Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:
All the Ipheions and their related subspecies are native to South America (southern Brazil, Chili, and Uruguay) and are called Spring Starflowers. They are great naturalizing bulbs for Texas and the southern United States--but in Texas they should not be confused with either the Prairie Celestial Lily (Nemastylus geminiflora) or the Prairie Nymph (Herbertia lahue). These two species are both native to Texas and quite frankly very different with very obvious flower and bulb morphology differences from the Ipheions.
Ipheion uniflorum and other related Ipheon species bloom earlier in the season in my garden and have happily naturalized in areas with good drainage for 20 years. I love the Ipheions for their very early spring blooms!
All the Ipeion species are ha. read more rdy, most are inexpensive, permanently naturalizing harmonious bulb species in the southern United States and if allowed reseed themselves will hybridize yielding very interesting color combinations.
On Apr 12, 2005, frostweed from Josephine, Arlington, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:
This lovely flower was found growing at the Lady Bird Johnson wild flower center in Austin.
On Feb 20, 2005, tubaPERTL from Lubbock, TX (Zone 7a) wrote:
Ipheion grows on many lawns in semi-arid Lubbock, whether or not lawns are being watered. In my area, close to the Texas Tech Univ. campus, many homes have become rental properties for students. Walking the area in spring 2004, I was delighted to note many examples of Ipheion and Muscari.
Only in Fall 2004 did I notice the sprouting of the new season's leaves. I did not plant Ipheion, but thought the area
was the where I'd planted Chiondoxa. The Ipheion, apparently, is an heirloom along the west foundation of my
55-yr-old house. No problem with the 3° low for Dec 24/25.
Friday, a friend asked me about the "blue flower" around his grandmother's former residence -- one with leaves smelling of onions. Yes, Ipheion is an heirloom bulb over all centra. read more l Lubbock!
On Mar 6, 2004, celtic_dolphin from Boone, NC (Zone 4b) wrote:
I absolutely LOVE this flower! It multiplied from a mere 20 bulbs to hundreds in just three years! Some say it's invasive, but I say you can never have too many. It looked beautiful combined with Perrenial Candytuft and Grape Hyacinths in Zone 7. I'm in Zone 6 now and can't wait to see how well they do here.
On Jan 24, 2004, ladywelder66 from Norfolk, VA wrote:
This flower is a beautiful surprise down south when it pops up every spring in my grandmother's backyard. The bloom time is short but sweet. It looks better spreading all over a lawn, naturalized, because the foilage is so tiny, you don't notice it in your lawn the rest of the year.Great plant!
On Mar 18, 2003, Ulrich from Manhattan Beach, CA (Zone 11) wrote:
On Aug 8, 2001, killerdaisy from Dallas, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:
Blooms best when crowded. Hardy to zone 7, zone 5 with winter mulch. Snails and slugs can be problematic.
Previously known as:
- Brodiaea uniflora
- Milla uniflora
- Tristagma uniflorum
- Triteleia uniflora
The Spring Starflower is a bulbous perennial that grows up to 10" tall. This South American ground cover tolerates drought but should be kept moist during the growing season. In early spring, its bulb produces grass-like foliage and multiple flowering 6" stems with single white to violet-blue star flowers.
The plants grow in sun to partial shade, become dormant after blooming, self-seed and bulb offset to spread leading them to be useful in naturalizing lawns and under trees. This plant prefers a sheltered, sunny position with slightly moist soil. Both flowers and foliage are mildly fragrant. Plant blooms in early to mid spring and produces masses of flowers on individual scapes. This plant spreads if left undisturbed. Plant in late fall and bury plants 5 in. to base of the bulb and space 2-4 in. apart, 10-20 bulbs per sq. ft. These are excellent for use in rock gardens, lawns, and woodland gardens.
Quick ID Hints:
- Grass-like leaves have a garlic/onion scent
- Produces 6-pointed bluish white star flowers in spring.
- Tepals have a darker central vein on the underside.
- Has numerous scapes of solitary flowers.