Dodecatheon meadia L.
Prairie Shooting Star
Click to enlarge
Dodecatheon meadia var. meadia
Basis for Listing
Dodecatheon meadia is a characteristic and occasionally common plant of prairie remnants to the east and south of Minnesota, but it was not discovered here until 1980. It was found in an untouched strip of native prairie on a railroad right-of-way in Mower County. Subsequent botanical inventories of suitable habitat in Mower and adjacent counties found no additional populations. It is quite possible that this is the only occurrence of the species in Minnesota. The population consisted of several hundred plants until 1990 when the railroad tracks were abandoned. Subsequent road construction and agricultural development destroyed most of the habitat and most of the plants. Dodecatheon meadia was originally listed as a special concern species in Minnesota in 1984, but given its extreme rarity, it was reclassified as endangered in 1996.
The pink flowers of Dodecatheon are distinct, visible in the early spring above the emerging grasses and sedges, and appear as the species is named: like a shooting star. What distinguishes D. meadia from other Dodecatheon spp. in our area are the seedpods, which are thick-walled, almost woody, and inflexible; the leaves, which have red markings at the base; and the flower color, which is lighter than other Dodecatheon spp. (Iltis and Shaughnessy 1960; Schwegman 1984).
In this region, D. meadia appears to occur exclusively in mesic, tallgrass prairies, although farther east it exhibits greater ecological amplitude. The closely related D. radicatum (jeweled shooting star) also occurs in southeastern Minnesota, but is confined to cliffs and rocky woods in the Driftless Area or Paleozoic Plateau.
Biology / Life History
Seeds of D. meadia are small and appear to have no special adaptation for dispersal by birds or large animals. The tendency for native prairie perennials is to have low seed production and limited seed dispersal. This species flowers early in spring and is pollinated by insects. It does not compete well in shaded environments (Schwegman 1984; Parker et al. 1993).
Conservation / Management
The native tallgrass prairie in which this plant occurs has been nearly eliminated from North America. In Minnesota, less than 1% of the original tallgrass prairie remains. It is important that all remaining prairie remnants in southern Minnesota be protected and searched for this species. The Mower County site that harbors D. meadia is dangerously small, and is threatened by herbicide drift from nearby agricultural fields and roadsides. Other potential threats include salt pollution from an adjacent highway, unauthorized mowing, and poaching. Prescribed burns to maintain prairie habitat is recommended, but the timing of any prescribed burn is critical; it should occur only in early spring before the plant emerges from the ground. The sole site supporting this very rare species should be monitored and managed to control noxious and invasive weeds.
Conservation Efforts in Minnesota
The surviving portion of the singular site supporting D. meadia is in public ownership, and efforts have been made to protect it from further damage.
Iltis, H. H., and W. M. Shaughnessy. 1960. Preliminary reports on the flora of Wisconsin No. 43 Primulaceae -Primrose Family. Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters 49:115-135.
Parker, I. M., S. M. Mertens, and D. W. Schemske. 1993. Distribution of seven native and two exotic plants in a tallgrass prairie in southeastern Wisconsin: the importance of human disturbance. The American Midland Naturalist 130:43-55.
Schwegman, J. E. 1984. The Jeweled Shooting Star (Dodecatheon amethystinum) in Illinois. Castanea 49(2):74-82.