Hundreds of years ago, settlers making their way across the American prairies observed abundant nodding flowers scattered throughout open, moist woods and rocky slopes in the springtime. Although these wildflowers have suffered declines in their natural habitats, the native plant gardening trend means that the shooting star is widely available in cultivation, ready to grace your garden with a piece of living history.
- Botanical Name: Dodecatheon meadia
- Common Names: American Cowslip, Eastern Shooting Star, Prairie Pointers, Pride of Ohio, Roosterheads, Shooting Star
- Plant Type: Perennial
- Mature Size: One to three feet
- Sun Exposure: Partial sun
- Soil Type: Rocky or sandy loam
- Soil pH: Slightly acidic, 6.8
- Bloom Time: May, June
- Flower Color: Pink or white
- Hardiness Zones: USDA growing zones 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
- Native Area: Midwestern, Northeastern, and Southeastern United States
How to Grow Shooting Star
The shooting star plant is a spring ephemeral, which means that it's in its glory in the spring, but it drops off the radar after that. In the summer plants go dormant, withering away under summer's glare. Don't worry, this short-lived perennial will reappear in the spring when mild temperatures and moist soil tell the plants to get growing again.
A site with partial sun is ideal for shooting star plants. Because the plants are dormant in the summer, you can plant them under the high canopy of deciduous trees, which provide dappled light in the spring before leafing out to shade the resting phase of the plants.
Shooting star plants grow and colonize areas of well-draining or sandy loam, although they will tolerate some clay soils. The plants do well in the leaf mould that accumulates under mature trees.
Shooting star plants need average water, and their summer dormancy is an adaptation that increases their drought tolerance.
Temperature and Humidity
Shooting star plants thrive in the mild spring temperatures and gentle rains of April through June. They experience dormancy as summer heats up.
Shooting star plants don't need supplemental fertilizer. They are genetically programmed to thrive in native soils, unenriched by additional nitrogen. If your soil is especially poor, you can side dress the plants with a shovelful of compost when they are actively growing.
You can increase your shooting star flowerbed by dividing the plants in the fall. Make a note of the plant's location before it goes dormant in the summer. In the fall, dig up the crowns and divide them, leaving about one foot of space between plants.
Varieties of Shooting Star
Variations within the shooting star species occur naturally, and flowers may range in color from white to lavender to dark pink without any intervention from the gardener.
Growing From Seeds
Collect the very fine seed of shooting star plants in July from spent flowers. The seeds require moist stratification to germinate. In late winter, place them in a sandwich bag full of moist peat mixed with vermiculite for one month. After your last frost, spread the mixture over your chosen outdoor area. As an alternative to stratification, plant outdoors in the fall. Thin seedlings to one plant per square foot after germination occurs.
Shooting star plants are seldom bothered by pests. In a world where our pollinators face a fragile future, the shooting star serves as an important source of nectar for bumblebees. Because the pollen of the shooting star is trapped in a narrow tubular structure in the flowers, bees must vibrate their bodies to shake the pollen loose. Without this special behavior that allows pollination to occur, the Dodecatheon genus would die out. Protect bees by shielding your shooting star plants from pesticides.
Shooting Star vs Nodding Onion
Both the shooting star and the nodding onion (Allium cernuum) have pink nodding flowers. Nodding onion plants are also native wildflowers, and grow in zones 4-8 in full to partial sun and sandy loam. The nodding onion blooms later than the shooting star; usually from June to August. The foliage of the nodding onion is taller and more narrow than the shooting star, and it also has a distinct onion smell when crushed. Plant some nodding onion flowers as companions to your shooting star plants to continue the pink blossom show in your wildflower garden.