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)

  • Wildlife
    • Pollen source to bumble bees and other bee species
  • Native people
    • Flowers used decoratively and as a sleep aid
    • Leaves used as an eye wash or oral gargle
  • CAUTION – Leaves and roots can be eaten when roasted or boiled, but are 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
    • The alternative common name mosquito bills refers to the narrow, sharp-pointed anthers


  • 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)
Seed Capsules © DSchiel

ID Tips

  • May be confused with padre’s shooting star (P. clevelandii var. patula)
    • Henderson’s shooting star is more commonly found at Edgewood
      • Purplish-red stem
      • Filament tubes, which surround the stalk of the stamens (male flower parts), are slender
      • Anthers (pollen-producing parts) are sharp-pointed
      • Leaves roundish (elliptic to ovate) and smooth edged
    • Padre’s shooting star is less commonly found at Edgewood
      • Green stem
      • Filament tubes are stout, often with yellow spots creating a band (look like a bumblebee!)
      • Anthers are blunt-tipped
      • Leaves more blade-like (oblanceolate) and wavy edged
  • Jepson notes that shooting stars are highly variable and may hybridize
  • Check out this short Jepson video for more ID tips
Henderson’s Shooting Star (L), Padre’s Shooting Star (R)
© TCorelli

At Edgewood

  • Found in grasslands and woodlands
  • Flowers February – April

See General References

Specific References

Wikipedia. 2018. Primula hendersonii. Wikipedia.org.

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