Gagea is a genus of flowering plants in the lily family. These plants are native to Europe and Asia and are among the earliest flowers to emerge in the spring months, making them very popular with gardeners. One of the most commonly sold and cultivated species is G. lutea, the yellow star-of-Bethlehem. Nurseries and garden supply stores sometimes carry bulbs and can order them by special request, and gardeners can also grow from seeds and divisions provided by other gardeners.
Members of this genus produce long, blade-like leaves and stalks of colorful yellow flowers. The flowers are actually more colorful than meets the eye; although they appear to be solid yellow, when viewed in ultraviolet light, they reveal markings designed to attract animals with ultraviolet vision. This allows insects like bees to quickly navigate to the heart of the flower for nectar, picking up pollen they will distribute to other plants along the way.
These bulbs like rich, well-drained soil amended with some sand or loam, and can be grown in full sun or partial shade. They grow well under low groundcovers or mulch to protect the bulbs from the coldest part of the winter weather, and will start producing shoots in late winter or early spring. In low light conditions, the flowers tend to close up. The bulbs of several Gagea species are edible and have traditionally been used as a food source.
At the end of their blooming period, the plants will die back. The dead foliage can be trimmed away and the bulbs can be allowed to go dormant. Every few years, Gagea can be dug up and divided. The bulbs can be spread out to create a larger planting or gardeners can share their divisions with people interested in trading plants, seeds, and bulbs. If the plants are not regularly divided, they can grow too dense and may have difficulty thriving.
Other bulbs make excellent companion plantings for Gagea, as do low groundcovers, particularly deciduous groundcovers that leaf out in late spring, as this will allow the bulbs to emerge easily. Gagea species are suitable for container gardening and can be grown in flowerboxes and other containers. People in regions with gophers, moles, and other underground pests may want to consider growing their bulbs in sunken containers, as bulbs are extremely tempting to many garden visitors. Using a container will keep the bulbs inaccessible and safe.