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Nature On Trail: Jeffrey's Shooting Star

By Pam Roy

The year was 1985. The place, somewhere near Snoqualmie Pass. My two hiking buddies and I had trudged uphill the obligatory number of miles it takes to emerge from the green tunnel into the glories of the subalpine zone. Gwen, a horticulturist, rounded the next corner of the trail and excitedly exclaimed, “Dodecatheon!”

Shooting Star

Thus was my introduction to Dodecatheon jeffreyi, or Jeffrey’s shooting star. This unique “stop you in your tracks” beauty of a wildflower is one of my favorites. The flower resembles a rocket or jet-propelled missile.

Jeffrey’s shooting star is a native plant and member of the primrose family. It is one of many varieties of Dodecatheon found in Washington. Leaves are oval to lanceolate (gradually narrowing) reaching up to 20 inches in length. Leaf margins may be irregularly toothed or smooth. The erect stems stand 6-24 inches tall. This variety of shooting star has narrower leaves and grows taller than the most commonly found shooting star in our area (Dodecatheon pulchellum).

The flowers are a real showstopper! Bright lavender or magenta petals in groups of 4-5 top the bare stems. The name shooting star refers to the way the yellow or cream colored stamens (lower part of flower) lead the way as the petals turn back, nearly inside out, streaming behind like the trail of a shooting star. Occasionally the petals are white. On one memorable late June trip to Bean Creek Basin in Eastern Washington, I spotted a lone white Jeffrey’s Shooting Star in a meadow filled with literally thousands of the pink and magenta ones.

Jeffrey’s shooting star live in vernal, wet areas. These areas are moist in spring, but may be drier later in the summer. Good places to observe these stunning, bright flowers are along moist streambeds, in boggy areas and in subalpine meadows. Their habitat ranges from coastal areas to high elevations in the Olympics, North Cascades and Mount Rainier National Park. A botanist, John Jeffreys was hired by a group of Scottish gentleman in the mid 1800s to research plants in the Olympics and the Fraser and Willamette drainages. His name in now associated with these plants.

Print out these full-color field guides to take with you on trail:

An interesting phenomenon of Dodecatheon is the way bumblebees “buzz” the flowers, their sound waves dislodging the pollen from the upside-down flowers. Dodecatheon comes from the Greek “dodeka” (twelve) and “theos” (god) suggesting protection by the gods.

A favorite area of mine to view Jeffrey’s shooting star is Bean Creek Basin, mentioned above. Usually these flowers appear in small numbers, a scattering here and there along a streambed or a moist spot in a wildflower meadow, each one standing out like a rare jewel. The meadows of Bean Creek Basin are filled with of thousands these tiny plant rockets.

Another great place to see Jeffrey’s shooting star is Paradise at Mount Rainier. Walk the flower trails towards Edith Creek Basin or Myrtle Falls and view the smattering of shooting stars in moist areas.

Head north of Seattle along the Mountain Loop Highway to the Walt Bailey Trail (currently inacessible due to storm damage). Climb up through the forest on a somewhat rugged trail and come out into the meadows for more shooting stars.
Look for these flowers in late June to July in Eastern Washington, July to early August in Western Washington.