The plant is found mainly in the Mediterranean region and central Europe but can also be found further north, for example in France and Germany; specimens have been discovered at a single site in the Welsh county of Radnorshire, the only location in the United Kingdom from which it has been reported, and the plant has been adopted as the county flower.
As its name suggests, the Early Star-of-Bethlehem blooms earlier than most other species of Gagea, and is usually found in flower from January to March or April. Its flowers are very similar to those of the congeneric Yellow Star-of-Bethlehem, but it is a less vigorous plant, growing to a height of 2–6 cm and normally having just a single pair of twisting, thread-like basal leaves, with one or two pairs of laneolate leaves, perhaps 1 cm wide, just below the flowers. The flowers, of which there are usually no more than four on each plant, are yellow and have six petals; they are about 1½ cm in diameter. It grows mainly on dry grassland.