Sunday, April 18, 2010

Trio of shooting stars


If your spring wildflower hike takes you to places in the Ozarks with steep dolomite, limestone or sandstone cliffs, you won't have to look too closely to find the stunning flowers of shooting stars clamboring out of moist, seepy crevices.

The most common shooting star in the Ozarks is found primarily on dolomite; Dodecatheon meadia can be seen on shady north-facing slopes, along cliff faces, and in tallgrass prairies of the Osage Plains. The bases of the midrib and petiole are tinged with deep red, and flowers range from stark white to the palest pink. Columbines are in bloom around the same time, and also found on dolomite cliff faces in the Ozarks. (Sorry for the lousy photo)

In the western Ozark border, look on limestone cliffs for the more uncommon D. amethystinum (pictured on top). Primarily found in the northern reaches of the state affected by glaciation, this shooting star is common in Wisconsin's driftless areas. The differences between this one and D. meadia involve the leaf coloration (amethyst shooting star lacks the red pigment on the leaves) and the seedpods. The previous has thin-walled fruits which are "narrowly ellipsoid or conical." The more common species possesses thick-walled, ovoid or conical fruits. You can see the difference between the flowers in the photos.

Julian Steyermark discovered four distinct populations of D. amethystinum var. amethystinum, each one listed in his 1963 Flora of Missouri. For the past few years, folks have visited one of the Steyermark sites with loppers, Roundup, and thick gloves to remove any and all bush honeysuckle that grows in the general vicinity of this historic population. Bush honeysuckle is allelopathic, the roots exude a chemical that suppresses plants trying to grow around in the same area. This small, relictual population of amethyst shooting star averages 100-200 plants, and is completely surrounded by a hillside covered in bush honeysuckle, japanese honeysuckle, and wintercreeper. The site isn't defensible in the long run, but the population is holding it's own right now because of the annual efforts.

Sandstone cliffs. If you find yourself around sandstone cliffs this spring, look for a remarkably distinctive shooting star, D. Frenchii. The spathe-like leaves of this plant have a long petiole. I've never seen Frenchii, but was told that "you would know it when you see it. It just looks different" from the others.

4 comments:

Justin Thomas said...

Nice post, Allison. I was just at Clark's Hill last week photographing D. amethystinum. What a treat!

Ann Flower said...

What an incredible blossom. I am not at all familiar with this plant, but it sounds like one I would like to get to know better.

Allison Vaughn said...

it's a remarkable plant and in full flower now! Check out a local state park to find one...

Allison Vaughn said...

Justin-I'm headed out there tomorrow with my secretary (making her earn her Secretary's Day lunch...) to hack down bush honeysuckle. I've gone out there ever since I moved up here to do it. I can't believe how it's hanging on.