Dodecatheon meadia L.
Shooting star, American cowslip, Indian-chief,
Rooster-heads, Johnny-jump, Pride-of-Ohio.
Medium-fine in flower, medium otherwise
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,
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.
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:
Protected and endangered
Protected and endangered
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.
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,
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,
- 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.