Plant Profile #2 – Dark Throat Shooting Star

Few flowers in the Colorado Mountains are as instantly recognizable as shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum (Raf.) Merr.), with the swept-back look of the purple-lavender corolla trailing behind a bright yellow center that gives the flower its name.


A native, perennial forb of the primrose family (Primulaceae), shooting stars are also highly adaptable, growing in a variety of habitats from stream-sides to sagebrush flats, and at nearly any elevation from Alaska to Mexico. In Colorado they are probably most often found in moist mountain meadows, like the flowers captured in these photos.


Clusters of 1-20 flowers, atop a single leafless stem, can appear anytime from April to August, depending on habitat and elevation.  In addition to the striking contrast in colors between purple petals and yellow center is the thin, wavy lavender line forming a ring at the base of the yellow tube.


Native Americans used these plants for medicinal purposes, both as an oral aid and to treat sore eyes. A cooled infusion of leaves or roots was used to make eye drops, while a warm infusion of leaves was gargled to treat cankers. 


Another interesting characteristic of all Dodecatheon species is that they require “buzz pollination” or sonication by bees.  This occurs when a native bee (honeybees rarely perform this action) clings to the anthers and vibrates the flower by buzzing flight muscles, the exact frequency of which releases pollen from the anthers (DeLuca & Marin, 2013).


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