Home | Next | Previous | Index | Purchase book

Idaho Mountain Wildflowers

Primrose Family, Primulaceae

The primrose family’s common name was derived from the term “prime rose” applied to certain flowers—daisies, primroses, and others—that bloom early in the spring. The family consists of 18 genera, and 955 species. Its members typically have radially symmetrical flowers whose five (occasionally four) petals may join for part or all of their length into a tube. Most are perennial, herbaceous (non-woody) and native to the north temperate zone. Subalpine and alpine Primulaceae are found in all of the mountain ranges of the northern hemisphere. Many primulas are grown as ornamental cultivars (primroses, shooting stars, cyclamens, etc.); otherwise the family has little commercial importance.

Shooting stars, Dodecatheon spp.

The name Dodecatheon honors the twelve gods of the ancient Greeks; applied in ancient times to a now unknown plant (shooting stars are not found in Eurasia). Although we'll  use Dodecatheon  here, shooting stars were re-classified in 2007 and are now in genus Primula. They differ from other primroses only in their mode of pollination.

Jeffrey's shooting star, Dodecatheon jeffreyi Van Houtte (left, right). Jeffrey’s, or mountain shooting stars, grow on the banks of mountain lakes and in meadows moist from melting snow. They bloom as high as treeline, often in profuse numbers, from late spring well into summer, according to elevation. The flowers have five (occasionally four) swept back, white-based, pink petals with a yellow collar at the base. Purple-brown anthers join to form a point from which the filament protrudes. Although it may take a hand lens to see it, the stigma at the end of the filament is about twice the width of the filament, a distinguishing feature for this species.

Many-flowered shooting star, Dodecatheon pulchellum (Raf.) Merr. (left) has a squiggly purple ring at the base of the petals as a distinguishing characteristic. The size of the stigma which—unlike that of Jeffrey’s shooting star—is the same diameter as the filament. Shooting stars typically have a rosette of basal leaves whose shape varies with the species. The stem is naked, topped with one to several flowers. . The plant in the illustration, with pale yellow anthers is var. cusickii (Greene) Reveal. The term pulchellum, from the Latin, means “beautiful.”

White-flowered shooting star are occasionally encountered. (right). Although a white-flowered species, Dodecatheon dentatum, occurs in Idaho it isa rare plant. Thhe one shown here seems to be an albino form of Dodecatheon jeffreyi..

Cusick’s primrose, Primula cusickiana (A. Gray) A. Gray (left, right). Cusick’s primrose is an early spring-blooming, plant whose yellow-eyed flowers range from pale to deep purple. It is found only in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon and in central and west-central Idaho where it blooms from foot hills to sub-alpine slopes immediately after snowmelt, on rough, unpromising ground. At lower altitudes the plants are "leggier"--less compact and longer stemmed (left)--than those found at subalpine elevations (right); nevertheless they are the same species, named for William Cusick (1842-1922), a rancher, teacher and botanist who collected plants in the Northwest. Attempts to cultivate this elegant little flower have not been successful.

Parry’s (or brook) primrose, Primula parryi A. Gray (not shown), is a subalpine plant that grows in moist places in Idaho and in other Rocky Mountain states. We have seen the plant in Colorado, but have not yet encountered it in Idaho. Parry's primrose is considerably taller than Cusick’s primrose—its leaves may be ten inches or more in length and its flowers are blue or purple with yellow eyes.

Rocky Mountain androsace, Androsace montana A. Gray (left). Until recently, this plant, known as a “dwarf primrose,” was classified as Douglasia montana. On the basis of recent studies it is now recognized as an Androsace (andross-a-KEY). It s a low, mat-forming, pink-flowered alpine plant. The flowers have a small, ringed, central “eye,” common to primroses in general.

Home | Next | Previous | Index | Purchase book