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 video (Jepson 2021) 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

Jepson Herbarium. 2021, Apr. 15. Primula clevelandii (Cleveland’s shooting star) and Primula hendersonii (mosquito bills) [Video]. The Jepson Videos: Visual Guide to the Plants of California. The Regents of the University of California. YouTube.

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

Wikipedia. 2018. Primula hendersonii. Wikipedia.org.