Shooting Star (Dodecatheon Meadia)

I read about Shooting Stars in one of my wildflower books and thought, “what an interesting flower!”, but, somehow, I did not expect to find them on Ozarkedge. What a wonderful surprise when I discovered the first one! It was a warm, sunny spring afternoon the first week of May ’07. My son and his girlfriend were visiting and I took them out to see the Iris cristata I had previously spotted at the creek bank. We decided to walk up and down the creek to see if we could discover another cluster of iris. But, instead of finding iris, we were delighted to see a Shooting Star! And, for once, I didn’t have my camera with me to capture them. The blooms were just past their peak, but still had drama and beauty. With my work schedule, I knew I would not able to get back to Ozarkedge until their bloom season had passed. I had to wait another full year to see them bloom at their peak.         

Shooting Stars in peak bloom on Ozarkedge.

As soon as spring began, I started searching the creek bank where I had seen the Shooting Star…..nothing. But, being persistent, as I branched out and started photographing other spring wildflowers, I kept searching along every creek bank, hoping to spot one. When I discovered a clump of pretty, elliptical leaves, I was pretty sure that I had found the Shooting Stars! They were sprouting up all along the creek banks on the far side of the property. I had to be patient and wait for the blooms, to be absolutely sure of their identity. By late March, slender stems had appeared from the center of the basal leaves. By early April, there were buds, and by mid April, finally, flowers appeared. Shooting Stars! Dodecatheon meadia! Not just one or two, but bunches of them. How wonderful! To discover more about them, read on….

Basal rosette before buds appear in  the 3rd week of March

Latin Name/Common NameDodecatheon meadia was named for Dr. Richard Mead, 1673-1754, who was an English scientist and physician to King George. There is a lot of information about Dr. Mead on the internet. He was an advocate of inoculation for small-pox and contributed to the study of preventative medicine.  The word Dodecatheon comes from the Greek “Dodeca”, which means twelve and “Theos” which means God. The name doesn’t have anything to do with the plant having twelve parts of anything. Instead, it was named because the Primrose (botanical family) was believed to be under the care of the “twelve Olympic gods”.

I think the common name, Shooting Star, is a great name from looking at the blooms. The recurved petals and bloom tip look almost as if they have catapulted from the heavens-

The other common name, American cowslip, doesn’t seem very endearing, or memorable to me.

Bloom Color- I’ve read that the most common color for the blooms is pink to lavender, but most of the flowers blooming on Ozarkedge are white. I’ve seen a few plants with purplish blooms. They stand out among their white cousins. The border of each flower, no matter if it is white or lavender, has a black and chartreuse stripe appearing before the tip of the bloom. Then, the pistil, protrudes from the flower like a stinger.

These white blooms are the most common color on Ozarkedge

Here are some pretty lavender blooms, reported to be more common in Missouri, but not on Ozarkedge.

        Close-up of a lavender bloom showing the beautiful color pattern

Description- Dodecatheon meadia is a spring ephemeral. The leaves of the basal rosette are especially attractive, being a true green with a reddish streak down the center. The stem also has a reddish cast at its base. The leaves are easily distinguished among the other woodland greenery in the spring. When the bloom time approaches, a hollow stem ascends past the basal leaves up to a height of about 15 inches. Buds and flowers at such a height can’t be missed in the woodland. Most of the spring ephemerals lie close to the ground. Shooting Stars soar! They seem almost magical to me. At the top of the stems, the flowers tilt downward with recurved petals and a pistil that protrudes beyond the flower tip, like a needle.

This is a nice look at the flower and needle-like pistil


Here’s a picture of the beautiful green leaves with just the beginning of a stem and bud.

Shooting stars with new seed pods in late May

Yellowing leaves in late May as Dodecatheon meadia prepares to hibernate until next spring

Bloom Time- Buds usually appear on the basal rosette in late March on Ozarkedge. It takes weeks for the stem to reach full height and the buds to open. This requires patience on the part of the wildflower enthusiast. Flowers finally appear around the middle of April and the show lasts a full month into mid May, before the petals yellow and the seed pods are visible.


These two pictures show the reddish stripe on the leaves and the red tint to the stem.

Habitat- I’ve read that Dodecatheon meadia can be found in wooded areas on slopes and damp ledges,  as well as prairies and meadows. On Ozarkedge, I’ve found them in two distinct habitats- slopes adjacent to creek banks and rocky upland woods. The plants growing near the creeks seem to produce taller stems and larger flower. I have not found them in meadows on Ozarkedge.

                          Dodecatheon meadia in moist woodland habitat

          Dodecatheon meadia nestled within a colorful palette of rocks  

                       Woodland habitat within a thick bed of oak leaves

What’s Growing Nearby? There are violets, wood sorrel, fire pink, spring beauties and heuchera all growing in close proximity to shooting stars. Trilliums are not too far away but are mostly past their peak bloom by the time the Shooting Stars are putting on their show.

    Claytonia virginica (Spring Beauty) peeping out behind Dodecatheon meadia

 Ranunculus hispidus (Buttercup) growing alongside Dodecatheon meadia

Interesting Tidbits- The flowers are recommended for native bee gardens. They are pollinated by what’s called, “buzz pollination”. Visiting bees vibrate their flight muscles at a certain frequency, causing the anthers to vibrate, shaking out the pollen. Not all bees can pollinate through this gymnastic feat. Honey-bees don’t, but bumblebees do.  Buzz-pollinated flowers often tilt downwards when in full bloom- like Shooting Stars. Other flowers that can be buzz-pollinated include tomato, blueberries, cranberries, and egg-plants.

I’m not sure if these bumble bees were buzz pollinating the shooting stars, but they were working hard to get at the nectar.

Endangered List- This fascinating plant is becoming a rare treat to find in the wild. It is listed as endangered in four states- Florida, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.