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Dodecatheon meadia L.

Common name(s): Shooting star, American cowslip, Indian-chief, Rooster-heads, Johnny-jump, Pride-of-Ohio.
Family: Primulaceae
Type: Perennial
Size: 8-24" high
Texture: Medium-fine in flower, medium otherwise
Range: Pennsylvania . Manitoba . Georgia . Texas
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I still remember the first time that I ever saw a field of shooting stars I was up near the Boerner Botanical Garden visiting a small, privately-owned arboretum.

The woodland areas were broken up into a series of "rooms" connected by mowed pathways that meandered through the countryside. When we entered one such room not far from an old schoolhouse, there stood tens of thousands of shooting stars in the lawn before us.

Their graceful, parabolic forms surrounded us entirely, dew-laden and waving ever so slightly in the morning breeze.

The perfect beauty of this species cannot be described in words it is something that truly has to be seen to be appreciated. Each individual flower has a perfect point and reflexed petals, somewhat reminiscent of a badminton birdie designed by a master architect.

We were loathe to crush the fragile stems, so our paths treaded carefully through the waving stalks. Never again have I seen such an awesome display I have looked, but in vain. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the private arboretum, and I'm not sure if I could ever find the spot again. I suppose I'm content to let the image reside in my memory, available for recall on those cold, blustery days. There is nothing like the glint of sunlight on the dew-covered petals of a shooting star to chase away those winter blues.


Ranging from 3" to 12" in length and 1/2" to 4" wide, the basal leaves are generally 4 times longer than wide. They can be described as oblong to ovate to oblanceolate with an obtuse apex and subcordate leaf base, and are a light grayish-green.


Flower Present from the 17th of April through 30th of June in the Chicago area, the dainty pink, lilac, or white blooms are borne on erect 9" to 15" stalks above the leaves. Borne in an umbel, the flowers have petals bent backwards to look like a "shooting star."

The bracts of the involucre are lanceolate or linear and acute, with recurved calyx lobes and pedicels (of which the outside ones are sometimes longer). The corolla is purple, pink, or white with cone-shaped purple stamens and pistils.


The fruit is held aloft high above the basal foliage by erect, stout green stems. Botanically speaking, the fruit is a narrowly ovoid, 5-valved capsule.


There are few pest or disease problems with shooting star, although excessive collecting by over-zealous gardeners has limited its growth in the wild.


Should be sown at 41°F in moist soil germination is relatively easy, but flowers will take 3 years to bloom.

Because this species also has a fibrous root system, it is easily divided from the rosette after flowering. Any flowerheads should be removed prior to division to prevent seeding, thus strengthening the plant and increasing its chances for success in its new environment.


This is a lovely species that grows well in relatively adverse soils particularly calcareous ones. It lends itself well to woodland environments, softening the understory with its delicately perfect blooms.

It does require some shade and a fair amount of moisture, excess sun increases these requirements. Growth will be more vigorous in rich soils.

Care should be taken to ensure that plants purchased from nurseries and other vendors are propagated by a nursery instead of having been collected in the wild. Many states list Dodecatheon meadia as a rare or endangered species:

Florida Protected and endangered
Louisiana Imperiled
Michigan Protected, threatened
Minnesota Special concern
Mississippi Imperiled
Pennsylvania Protected and endangered
New York Possibly extirpated

Suggested uses:

As a woodland species, shooting star is invaluable for naturalizing effects. Ideally, the plants should be grown en masse as understory plantings, along the woodland border, or in small clusters.

The blooms are also excellent cut flowers, but most people prefer to leave them outside.

Companion plants:

Prairie remnants:

    Andropogon gerardii, Andropogon scoparius, Comandra umbellata, Eryngium yuccifolium, Gentiana puberulenta, Hypoxis hirsuta, Lithospermum canescens, Lobelia spicata, Petalostemum purpureum, Phlox pilosa fulgida, Poa pratensis, Ratidiba pinnata, Silphium terebinthinaceum, Sisyrinchium albidum, Solidago rigida, Sorghastrum nutans, Spartina pectinata, Sporobolus heterolepis.


    Aster sagittifolius drummondii, Carex pensylvanica, Caulophyllum thalictroides, Claytonia virginica, Eupatorium rugosum, Geranium maculatum, Helianthus strumosus, Polemonium reptans, Potentilla simplex, Prunella vulgaris lanceolata, Trillium recurvatum, Quercus spp.

Medicinal uses:

The species has no significant medicinal uses.


  • Britton, Nathaniel Lord and Addison Brown. An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States and Canada, vol II. New York: Dover, 1970.
  • Marshall, Nina T. The Gardener's Guide to Plant Conservation. Washington D.C: World Wildlife Fund, 1993.
  • Mohlenbrock, Robert H. Guide to the Vascular Flora of Illinois. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 1986.
  • Newcomb, Lawrence. Newcomb's Wildflower Guide. Boston: Little Brown, 1977.
  • Swink, Floyd and Gerould Wilhelm. Plants of the Chicago Region. Lisle: Morton Arboretum, 1994.
  • Walters, Dirk R. and David J. Keil. Vascular Plant Taxonomy, Third Edition. Dubuque: Kendall / Hunt, 1977.
  • Wyman, Donald. Wyman's Gardening Encyclopedia. New York: MacMillan, 1986.

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