This section is from the book "Nature's Garden", by Neltje Blanchan. Also available from Amazon: Nature's Garden; An Aid To Knowledge Of Our Wild Flowers And Their Insect Visitors.
Calyx deeply 5-parted; corolla of 5 narrow lobes bent backward and upward; the tube very short, thickened at throat, and marked with dark reddish-purple dots; 5 stamens united into a protruding cone; 1 pistil, protruding beyond them. Leaves: Oblong or spatulate, 3 to 12 in. long, narrowed into petioles, all from fibrous roots. Fruit: A 5-valved capsule on erect pedicels.
Preferred Habitat - Prairies, open woods, moist cliffs.
Flowering Season - April - May.
Distribution - Pennsylvania southward and westward, and from Texas to Manitoba.
Ages ago Theophrastus called an entirely different plant by this same scientific name, derived from dodeka - twelve, and theos =gods; and although our plant is native of a land unknown to the ancients, the fanciful Linnaeus imagined he saw in the flowers of its umbel a little congress of their divinities seated around a miniature Olympus! Who has said science kills imagination? These handsome, interesting flowers, so familiar in the Middle West and Southwest, especially, somewhat resemble the cyclamen in oddity of form. Indeed, these prairie wildflowers are not unknown in florists' shops in Eastern cities.
Many flowers like the shooting star, cyclamen, and nightshade, with protruding cones made up of united stamens, are so designed that, as the bees must cling to them while sucking nectar, they receive pollen jarred out from the end of the cone on their under sides. The reflexed petals serve three purposes: First, in making the flower more conspicuous; secondly, in facilitating access to nectar and pollen; and, finally, in discouraging crawling intruders. Where the short tube is thickened, the bee finds her foothold while she forces her tongue between the anther tips. The nectar is well concealed and quite deeply seated, thanks to the rigid cone. Few bee workers are flying at the shooting star's early blooming season. Undoubtedly the female bumblebees, which, by striking the protruding stigma before they jar out any pollen, cross-fertilize it, are the flower's benefactors; but one frequently sees the little yellow puddle butterfly clinging to the pretty blossoms.
Very different from the bright yellow cowslip of Europe is our odd, misnamed blossom.