I have been fortunate to have worked as a grower at a nursery. This gave me the opportunity to grow plants which are not that well known. Some plants aren’t well known because they are hard to grow while others just have a false reputation for that. One plant I grew was the eastern(North American) form of a local plant. I never saw the local plant until a few years ago when i was with my father driving near Nanaimo which is north of here. It was magical, carpeting a dappled area in the woods. Last year I finally found Henderson’s Shooting Star(Dodecatheon hendersonii) in many places.
Henderson’s Shooting Star is a very delicate looking plant which grows amoungst other more showy plants. it is often in bloom at the same time the local Erythronium oregonium(White Fawn Lily) is and grows in the same places. The hot magenta flower color helps it stand out even though the flowers themselves are quite small. The shape of the flower, with it’s extremely reflexed petals make it look quite unique.
Shooting Stars are a strictly North American species. The most commonly grown member of them is an Dodecatheon meadia which is found in the east growing from Pennsylvania to Manitoba and south through Georgia and Texas. In the west we have many species which overlap in some areas. Dodecatheon hendersonii is probably the most western as it grows on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and moves south to west central California. On the mainland it grows on the western side of the coastal mountains though the Siskiyous and the Sierra Nevadas. There are at least two named varieties. Var. hansonii is found in the Siskiyous and scattered locations in the Sierra Nevadas. Var. hendersonii is more widespread and found along coastal B.C. to southern Oregon.
Dodecatheon are members of the Primulaceae family. Dodecatheon is Greek; Dode(ka) meaning 12 and theo(s)n meaning god. The word dodecatheon refers to the 12 principle or most important gods which resided on Olympus. Pliny gave this original name to Primulas which grew where he lived. Primulas were thought to be under the care and protection of the 12 gods. The reference to the gods in the scientific name is thought to note that the flowers look somewhat likes thunderbolts which would be cast down on earth the gods when they were unhappy about what was going on. Hendersonii refers Louis Forniquet Henderson(1853-1942) who was the first botany professor at the University of Idaho.
Henderson’s Shooting Star grow in shallow soils which are damp during the spring growing season and then become bone dry during the long summer droughts which can extend into October here. This is the perfect type of situation for these plants. Often I have found them growing amoungst the Camas leaves, along rocky edges of roads and on moss covered bluffs.
When growing Dodecatheon hendersonii it is best to reproduce their local environment the best you can. If you are successful they will seed themselves and you will have a nice colony to look forward to every spring. plant in a mossy mix with rich soil, make sure it will drain adequately during the winter rainy season. They prefer to live below deciduous trees or shrubs or along the edge of such to be protected over the summer. These plants go completely dormant over the summer therefore it is wise to mark their site so as not to dig them up accidentally.
Henderson’s Shooting Star grow between 10 and 20cm tall(4-7in). They can grow taller if they are in richer soil. Here they tend to be in the shorter range. They are likely to be hardy to -10c(14f) or slightly colder. The last two winters have had spells of -10c and I think they have been more abundant than when the winters are warmer, maybe it is less likely they will rot. Slugs love these plants especially when they are just coming out of the ground in the early spring, protect them from these raiding feeders.
Some choice places to look for Shooting Stars:
Royla B.C. Museum has a great section on native plants:http://www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/Natural_History/Plants.aspx?id=958
How to grow and propagate them from experts:http://www.goert.ca/propagation_guidelines/forbs/dodecatheon_hendersonii
All the Dodecatheons you could possibly want:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodecatheon
Until we meet again on these blogging pages….