Shooting stars are herbaceous perennials with green leaves held in rosettes that dry up and disappear in early summer. The nodding cyclamen-like flowers resemble a shooting star streaking across the sky. All do best in half sun, half shade.
–Fraser’s Thimble Farms, 2011 Catalogue
Located on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Fraser’s Thimble Farms nursery lists nine varieties of Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon). All of them are native to North America. The flowers come in pink, lavender, magenta or white. One of the plants found on this list is Dodecatheon pulchellum ‘Sooke’, a “naturally occuring form found on Southern Vancouver Island [with] deep rose pink flowers on a stiffer more compact stem. Leaves thicker and more rounded than the species.” [FTF 2011 Catalogue]
The common name for Dodecatheon is Shooting Star. The plant has also been called mosquito bill, bird bill, American cowslip, sailor-cap, mad violet and prairie pointer. Dodecatheon belongs to the Primrose family.
John Banister (1654 – 1692) was invited by Henry Compton, Bishop of London, to travel to the West Indies and then to Virginia, where he collected seeds and plants to send home. Among them was Dodecatheon meadia. In 1712, Mark Catesby, an English naturalist and an artist, followed in Banister’s footsteps, collecting and describing the plants and seeds of Virginia. Catesby first described the Dodecatheon, under the name of Meadia, to commemorate the physician Dr. Richard Mead. Linnaeus renamed the plant in 1751, as Dodecatheon. The name is taken from the twelve principal deities of the Greek pantheon, who lived atop Mount Olympus. A painting by Mark Catesby depicting a Heath Hen and some Shooting Stars can be seen here.
The leaves and roasted roots of Dodecatheon were eaten by some Indian tribes as survival foods. In 1895, a book by James A. Teit, Ethnobotany of The Thompson Indians of British Columbia (edited by Elsie Viault Steedman) was published. Ethnobotany is the scientific study of the relationships that exist between people and plants. Teit, originally from Scotland, lived for many years in British Columbia. He lived closely with the Thompson Indians (the Nlaka’pamux), was fluent in their language and gained their trust. He reported that the flowers of Shooting Star are “used by Nlaka’pamux women to obtain the love of men and to help them control men. They are also used as a charm to obtain wealth and to make people give presents to the charmer.” The German-American anthropologist Franz Boas relied heavily on James Teit during his trips to British Columbia in 1894 and 1897.
The lovely rock outcrops of Vancouver Island occur in Garry oak ecosystems, a defining landscape characteristic of this region. Shooting Star is one of the plants that can be found growing under the canopy of Garry oak trees, along with Common camas (Camassia quamash), Chocolate lily (Fritillaria affinis) and other plants. To learn more about Garry oak ecosystems, visit the website of the Garry Oak Ecosystems Recovery Team.
I’ve tried to find a meaning for Shooting Star in the language of flowers, but have had no luck. Borrowing the meaning of Cyclamen (timid hope) and that of the primrose (childhood), perhaps we could make a new entry in the dictionary of flower meanings: Shooting Star (a child’s hopes).