Herbs perennial, not cushion- or mat-forming. Rhizomes (or caudices) usually present; roots fibrous, bulblets sometimes present. Stems (scapes) erect or nearly so, simple. Leaves in basal rosettes, simple; petiole ± winged, (sometimes sheathing); blade linear to oval, base abruptly or gradually tapering to petiole, margins entire, dentate, or crenulate, (sometimes undulate), apex mostly acute to rounded, surfaces glabrous or glandular-pubescent or -puberulent. Inflorescences usually umbels, 2-25(-125)-flowered, sometimes solitary flowers; bracts usually ternate. Pedicels recurved, usually straight and longer in fruit. Flowers homostylous; sepals 4-5, usually green, calyx tubular, not keeled, glabrous or minutely glandular, lobes spreading to reflexed, usually longer than tube; petals 4-5, white to pink or violet, or magenta to purple with yellowish and/or whitish base, often with purple, maroon, or reddish ring, corolla short-tubular, lobes strongly reflexed, length 2+ times tube, apex mostly acute; stamens ± exserted; filaments distinct or ± connate, forming tube; anthers connivent. Capsules cylindric, dehiscence valvate or operculate and lid opening as 5(-10+) toothlike segments. Seeds 50-200, dark brown to black, globose to ovoid or quadrate, sometimes with thin, membranous margins, irregularly alveolate, alveolae formed by collapse of minute bulbous cells. x = 22.
Members of Dodecatheon are widespread throughout much of North America, extending from northwestern Mexico to the Arctic in Alaska and northwestern Canada. Taxonomic boundaries between species are sometimes blurred, and the variation within the more widespread species (such as the eastern D. meadia and the western D. pulchellum) can be bewildering. Nearly all recognized species have an array of synonyms, and some names used in the past have proven to be illegitimate or misapplied, adding to the nomenclatural morass.
The genus can be subdivided into two groups (but not the three recognized by H. J. Thompson 1953), based primarily on the rugose (sect. Purpureo-tubulosa R. Knuth) versus smooth (sect. Dodecatheon) anther connective (A. R. Mast et al. 2004). Species with an enlarged stigma (notably Dodecatheon jeffreyi, the type of sect. Capitata H. J. Thompson) fall into the latter taxon. Even so, as noted in the key, both D. hendersonii and D. subalpinum occasionally have smooth connectives, and D. poeticum, a member of sect. Dodecatheon, has rugose connectives.
Recognition of Dodecatheon creates a paraphyletic Primula (M. Källersjö et al. 2000; A. R. Mast et al. 2001, 2004; L. Martins et al. 2003). Dodecatheon falls within Primula subg. Auriculastrum Schott (as sect. Dodecatheon) and is seemingly allied with the Sierra Nevada endemic P. suffrutescens A. Gray. The two share an involute leaf vernation. While Primula has a base number of x = 11, Dodecatheon has x = 22; H. J. Thompson (1953) has shown that 2n = 66 plants are triploids, not hexaploids. These observations have resulted in the transfer of all species of Dodecatheon to Primula (A. R. Mast and J. L. Reveal 2007). For those wishing to adopt this concept, the appropriate names are provided here in synonymy.
Pollination studies in Dodecatheon are limited; only two species (D. amethystinum and D. meadia) have been examined in detail (L. W. Macior 1964, 1970b). According to H. J. Thompson (1953), flowers not visited by a pollinator can self-pollinate.
Use of the taxonomic rank of variety, rather than subspecies, was discussed by N. H. Holmgren (1994), and those concepts are followed herein.
Well-preserved flowers of Dodecatheon are critical for identification. The nature of the anther (especially whether the connective is smooth, longitudinally wrinkled, or transversely rugose) and the color patterns of the corolla are important observations that should be made in the field because the flowers often lose color when dried. Some species (D. hendersonii, D. poeticum, and D. subalpinum) are keyed twice, in part because the connective can easily be misinterpreted. In particular, one should check for bulblets (about the size of grains of rice) that are produced among the roots of some species at anthesis.
Vegetative plasticity in response to both moisture and time of season contributes to extremes in variation, especially height and robustness of plants, and length and breadth of leaves. Because some species of Dodecatheon tend to flower in moist soils of grassy meadows (or even in running water), but only in places that tend to dry out, the length of time a particular site is wet can be a significant factor in determining the overall size of the plant and leaves. Additionally, ecotypic variation has been documented (T. A. Suttill and G. A. Allen 1992). In some species, one can find an ecological gradient with some plants near a stream bank having longer, broader leaves than those on the drier slopes away from the stream. Because there is often a continuum, it is easy to notice in the field, if alert to variation within the population. In others that tend to be in moist places throughout most of their growing cycle, elevation is a factor that seemingly plays a role in the vegetative plasticity.
Finally, be aware that occasionally two or more species may occur in proximity. Because the distinguishing features used here to recognize species can be difficult to observe without a critical examination of the flower, and in some cases the root system and capsules, a seemingly variable population may, in fact, be a mixture of plants of two different species with an occasional sterile hybrid added to the mix. This can result in herbarium collections composed of two species, adding even more difficulty to the identification of these plants.
Shootingstars are widely cultivated, and some cultivars have been selected. Essentially all species are found in nurseries. Most can be grown in sunny to lightly shaded places in dampish soil that slowly dries. Most flower during the spring months and are especially attractive when planted in masses. None of the species has much of a history of medicinal use by Native Americans. Flowers of some species were used decoratively, to attract men, and to aid youngsters to sleep. Roasted leaves and roots were eaten in California, and in the Pacific Northwest an infusion of roots was occasionally used as an eye wash, a treatment of cold sores, or an oral gargle (V. K. Chestnut 1902; J. Goodrich et al. 1980; J. C. Hellson 1974; E. V. Steedman 1930; N. J. Turner et al. 1980, 1990).
PLANT: Perennials with upright stems. LEAVES: basal, glabrous or nearly so in ours; margins various. INFLORESCENCE: a scapose umbel. FLOWERS: white or pink to purple or magenta and generally with a yellow tube, drooping; calyx deeply lobed, the lobes 4-5; corolla deeply lobed, the 4-5 lobes and part of the tube reflexed, the apices acute to obtuse; stamens 4-5, the filaments generally united; ovary superior. FRUITS: generally valvate. NOTES: Ca. 14 spp., generally of N. Amer. (Greek: twelve gods). Thompson, H. J. 1953. Contr. Dudley Herb. 4:73-154. REFERENCES: Cholewa Anita F. 1992. Primulaceae. Ariz.-Nev. Acad. Sci. 26(1)2
Cal deeply parted, persistent; cor cleft almost to the base, its lobes reflexed; filaments very short, ±connate; anthers elongate, erect, connivent; style about equaling the anthers; capsule opening by 5 short terminal valves; glabrous perennials with a basal rosette of lvs, erect scapes, and a terminal, bracteate umbel of handsome nodding fls on ascending or erect pedicels; fr erect. 13, N. Amer.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.