What is Dodecatheon?

Mary McMahon

Dodecatheon is a genus of flowering plants in the primrose family. These plants are native to North America and some species are threatened or endangered due to growing in limited ranges vulnerable to human activities like development and flower collection. Some more common species are cultivated in gardens and can be purchased at nurseries and garden supply stores, as well as through catalogs. For North American gardeners, a good source of Dodecatheon plants can be a gardening company that focuses on native species.

Man mowing the grass
Man mowing the grass

These plants have basal rosettes of long oblong leaves and produce tall stalks topped with nodding flowers that resemble cyclamen, with a spiky appearance where some petals are folded back and others thrust forward. Depending on the species, the flowers can be white, pink, or purple, and some species are very aromatic in addition to colorful. The flowers and leaves die back in winter and will return in spring in temperate climates, although hard frosts can kill the plant.

A number of common names are used for various Dodecatheon species, including mad violets, star of Ohio, shooting stars, American cowslip, and sailor-cap. In nature, these plants are often found in woodland and prairie environments and they can grow in very large patches. Because some species are fragile, it is advisable to leave wild plants alone unless a botanist has indicated that they are safe for collection.

Cultivars for gardening can be grown in full sun to part shade. They prefer rich, well-drained soil, which should be kept moist, but not wet. When the plants go dormant, they can be divided for cultivation. People can also purchase new plants from a nursery, or trade plants with other gardeners. There are a number of commercial cultivars and countless more developed in private gardens. Trading can provide access to a wide variety of plants that might otherwise be difficult to obtain.

Dodecatheon can be grown in massed plantings in the garden and used as a decorative border. People with native plant gardens can mix it with other native woodland and prairie species from the region where they are gardening. It also pairs well with violets, cyclamen, and other members of the primrose family. This family of plants is quite diverse and comes in an array of styles and colors.

This plant is also suitable for container gardening and can be grown in flowerboxes and greenhouses. When growing Dodecatheon in containers, it is important to monitor moisture levels in the soil to avoid mold while not allowing the flowers to dry out.

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