A bulbous perennial herb of Fraxinus-Ulmus woodland, hedgerows, road verges and rough grassy banks on calcareous soils, and a particular feature of green lanes on the borders of Somerset and Wiltshire. Lowland.
There has been no significant change in the range of O. pyrenaicum since the 1962 Atlas, but some woodland populations appear to have succumbed to ecological changes following the loss of mature elms. It was formerly harvested, sometimes on a commercial scale, as a native equivalent to asparagus, and is occasionally grown in gardens, sometimes escaping and becoming naturalised.
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Light (Ellenberg): 5
Moisture (Ellenberg): 5
Reaction (Ellenberg): 7
Nitrogen (Ellenberg): 5
Salt Tolerance (Ellenberg): 0
January Mean Temperature (Celsius): 3.6
July Mean Temperature (Celsius): 16.2
Annual Precipitation (mm): 773
Height (cm): 75
Perennation - primary
Life Form - primary
Clonality - primary
Comment on Clonality
Count of 10km squares in Great Britain: 33
Count of 10km squares in Ireland: 0
Count of 10km squares in the Channel Isles: 0
Atlas Change Index: 0.14
Scarce Atlas Account
Ornithogalum pyrenaicum L.
This plant typically grows in hedges, copses and woods, especially on oolitic limestone and clays but occasionally on other calcareous substrates. It is often very abundant in ash-elm woodland, associated with Allium ursinum and Hyacinthoides non-scripta. It also occurs along old green lanes, in unimproved pasture and along river banks.
This is a bulbous perennial which flowers early in June. Seeds are large, and seedlings appear en masse in woodlands in early spring and require several seasons to develop to maturity. Vegetative reproduction occurs by means of lateral buds which develop from mature bulbs.
O. pyrenaicum is still abundant in its British stronghold near Bath. However, it has declined in elm-dominated woods where nettles have recently become very abundant following the death of standing trees by disease and the consequent admission of light and release of nutrients. Other sites in the Bath area have been lost to building land.
In Europe the plant occurs in Belgium, south-west Switzerland, Austria, the mountains of Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. Elsewhere it is found in the Crimea, Asia minor and Morocco.
The unopened flower spikes used to be collected and sold in bundles under the name Bath Asparagus, a custom which has ceased in recent years. White (1912) considered that they were ‘very little inferior to the cultivated esculent’.
D. E. Green