Scientific name: Dodecatheon conjugens
FACTS: There are five species of shooting stars in the Blue Mountains, all of which look very much alike.
The differences between them are so slight that botanists can easily get them mixed up. I chose this one to write about because it's probably the most common one around here, and it happened to be the one I had the best photo of. However, the same photo could probably be used for one of the other species with no one realizing it.
Shooting stars are in the primrose family, and closely related to the house plant cyclamen. The red petals are swept backward as if the flowers are traveling at high speed, which is probably how the common name came about.
The scientific name is Greek, meaning "the plant protected by 12 gods." There are about a dozen species in North America, and some in Asia.
Each shooting star plant has a single leafless stem arising from a whorl of lance-shaped leaves at the base, with one to several flowers at the top.
The photo shows two plants. The stem is generally six inches to two feet high. The flowers are about an inch long, with five petals. There is nothing else that looks anything like a shooting star.
Shooting stars are reported to be easy to grow in gardens from seed, but will not survive if transplanted from the wild. Some Northwest American Indian tribes used them for medicinal purposes.
Where to find: Look for shooting stars in wet meadows, around seep springs or seeps on rock cliffs, or in open areas in the forest. They have already begun blooming at low elevations, and can be found at higher elevations over the next month or so.