Henderson’s Shooting Star

Henderson’s Shooting Star © TCorelli

Mosquito Bills, Sailor Caps
Primula hendersonii

Description (Jepson, PlantID.net)

    • Eudicotyledon
      • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
    • Primrose Family (Primulaceae)
    • Perennial herb; summer deciduous
      • Grows from rice-like bulblets
    • Leaves
      • Simple (not divided into leaflets)
      • Smooth or toothed margins
      • Arranged in a basal rosette
    • Nodding flowers (turned downwards) on a tall, red or purple scape (a leafless stem rising from ground level)
      • 4-5 showy petals are swept backward
      • Petal lobes are pink to lavender (rarely white), with a broad white band and narrow yellow and maroon bands at the base
      • Stigma (pollen-receiving part of the pistil/female structure) and sharply-pointed dark stamens (male flower parts) extend beyond the petals
      • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
    • Fruit is a many-seeded capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that is dehiscent [splits open])
    • Height 4-12 in.


      • Native to California
        • Grows in a variety of habitats, including grasslands, foothill woodlands, and chaparral
        • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
      • Outside California, grows from southern British Columbia south into California and east into Idaho
      • Grows at elevations to 6,235 ft.
      Leaves © DSchiel

      Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

        • Especially valuable as a pollen source to bumble bees and other bee species
        • Native people used flowers decoratively and to aid children to sleep; leaves were occasionally used as an eye wash or oral gargle
        • CAUTION – Leaves and roots can be eaten when roasted or boiled, but are reported to be poisonous when eaten raw

        Name Derivation

          • Primula (PRIM-oo-la) – from the Medieval Latin phrase prīmula vēris, “little first one of the spring,” referring to the plant’s early flowering
          • hendersonii (hen-der-SONE-ee-eye) – named after Louis Fourniquet Henderson (1853-1942), whom the Native Plant Society of Oregon dubbed the “Grand Old Man of Northwest Botany”
          • Shooting star – for the form of the flower


              Seed Capsules © DSchiel
            • The flower turns upward following pollination
            • Pollinated most effectively by sonication or “buzz pollination”; see Primrose family for details and buzz pollination video
            • Plants germinated from seed may take 3-5 years to produce flowers (Schmidt 1980)

            ID Tips

              • May be confused with lowland shooting star (P. clevelandii var. patula)
                • Henderson’s shooting star is more commonly found at Edgewood
                  • Purplish-red stem
                  • Sharply-pointed stamens
                  • Leaves roundish (elliptic to ovate)
                • Lowland shooting star is less commonly found at Edgewood
                  • Green stem
                  • Blunt-tipped stamens
                  • Leaves more blade-like (oblanceolate)
              • Jepson notes that shooting stars are highly variable and may hybridize

              At Edgewood

                • Found in grasslands and woodlands
                • Flowers February – April

                See General References

                Specific References

                  Dodecatheon hendersonii. 2018. Wikipedia.org.

                    Schmidt, M. 1980. Growing Native California Plants. University of California Press, Berkeley, California. Pg. 104.