Plants and Animals

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Shooting Star

This member of the primrose family brings a shot of color to open, sunny areas and pollen to bees.

Found throughout the Ozarks and our northeastern counties, shooting star is recognized by many Missourians because of its meteoric flowers. The closely pressed together yellow stamens protrude out the front of each flower and the petals are swept backward, reminiscent of the trailing streak behind a meteor. The bases of the petals are also yellow, but the remainder of the petals can be white or varying shades of pink. The flowers occur at the top of a rigid stem that is about 18 inches tall. The leaves, which are up to 6 inches long, are all clustered at the base of the stem and both leaves and stem are smooth and without hairs.

Shooting star is a plant of prairies, glades and somewhat open woodlands on bluffs and high slopes. It thrives in full sun on the open prairies and glades but tolerates light shading in woodlands. It tends to be scattered in open habitats but it’s often found in colonies in wooded sites. Because of its early spring growth, it receives considerable light even in the woodlands, before the deciduous trees leaf out fully each spring. With blooms that peak in May, the species completes its life cycle early in the growing season, producing its fruits with tiny seeds before the arrival of the hot, dry Missouri summer. Although the Mayflowers are oriented downward, the flower stems will change direction as the fruits develop, leaving the mature fruit capsules pointed skyward by late June.

Several types of bees visit flowering shooting stars to collect pollen and many photos of the flowering plant will include a bumblebee dangling upside-down from one of the flowers.

Botanists know this shooting star as Dodecatheon meadia, a member of the primrose family. It is much more commonly encountered than its two close relatives, French’s shooting star and amethyst shooting star, both of which are considered species of conservation concern in Missouri. The Latin name is from the Greek “dodeca” and “theos,” referring to twelve gods that were believed to care for the primroses. “Meadia” commemorates the English physician Dr. Richard Mead (1673–1754), who was a patron of early botanical exploration in North America. Other common names for the plant include bird’s bill, mosquito bills, mad violets, sailor caps and American cowslip.

Shooting star is sometimes used as a native wildflower in home landscape plantings and is available from native plant specialty nurseries. It tolerates soils with dry to average moisture and needs full sun or light shade.

—Tim Smith, photo by Noppadol Paothong

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