Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia)
by Trish Beckjord, RLA
It’s been a while since I have written about one of my favorite spring wildflowers, Dodecatheon meadia (Shooting Star). Although it doesn’t bloom until late spring and you are likely itching to see flowers in the garden now, its flowering is well worth your patience. It will last about a month starting about in mid-May. Like the more familiar but introduced daffodil (Narcissus sp.), Shooting Star is a spring ephemeral, so the entire plant dies back completely by early summer.
The leaves are just starting to push up in the garden. Now would be a good time to look for this plant and get it in the ground in time for its spring flowering. Shooting Star is quite robust in appearance. The leaves form a basal rosette where each leaf can be up to 6” long and 2 1/2” wide so even without flowering it has a presence in early spring.
The flower stalk grows from the center of the rosette to about 1 ½’ tall. Six to as many as forty flowers, each about 1” long and consisting of 5 strongly reflexed petals, hang in an umbel* from the top of the stalk. The whole form of the flower, which includes the clustered stamens that form a tube which converges to a point, creates the obvious appearance which gives this plant its name.
Although the plant dies back, the seed heads remain and continue to add interest.
The flowers are visited by a variety of native bees with queen bumblebees being the most typical visitor where they use a technique called “buzz pollination” to collect pollen. The flower provides no nectar reward.
Plant Shooting Star in full sun to partial shade with adequate moisture. It can be used in locations that become drier later in the season after it dies back. In the wild it is found in a variety of habitats ranging from mesic-dry savannas, wet to dry prairies and prairie fens, river bluffs and abandoned fields. It is difficult and slow to grow from seed and best put in the ground as a 2-3 year plant to ensure flowering the first year after planting.
With its early spring bloom and adaptability to sun and partial shade, Shooting Star is a great plant to mix in with plants such as hostas and grasses. One of my favorite combinations is planting Dodecatheon with Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) and Pale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida).
*Umbel: A cluster of flowers on shorter flower stalks that spread from a common point much like the ribs of an umbrella. The form of an umbel can range from spherical to flat-topped.
Shooting Stars dance above maturing Prairie Dropseed and Eastern Beebalm in mid-May.