Another of my favorite spring wildflowers is the shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi). This early blooming perennial belongs to the primrose family and is related to the domestic cyclamens.
Found in wet meadows, grassy slopes and along stream banks, the lance-shaped leaves form large basal clumps connected by rhizomes. The deep red flowering stems are leafless. The flowers, to my mind, are spectacular. The five (sometimes four) magenta or lavender petals reflex backward (are sharply swept backward) and unite at the base in a short yellowish tube. The dark stamens (pollen bearing part of the flower) are more or less fused into a tube surrounding the style (the central portion of the female part of the flower). The flower does look like a comet or “shooting star” as the common name suggests.
Shooting stars are examples of “buzz pollination”. The pollen is released onto the stamen surrounding the style. From there the pollen can be dislodged by sound waves set up by the buzzing of bumblebees. The day that I took these pictures there were many bumblebees hovering about the flowers, however, I never did see one alight.
I read one report of the leaves being used for a potherb (the Thompsons’ Wild Food Plants of the Sierra). The only redeeming quality they assigned to the leaves was that they are not “bitter”. I nibbled a raw leaf and indeed it was not bitter – but there is nothing to recommend destroying such a beautiful and welcome spring flower for a few greens.
These shooting stars were located in a small meadow below Lake Britten Dam (Shasta County CA).