Plants 10-50 cm; scape mostly glabrous. Caudices not obvious at anthesis; roots whitish to tan or brownish; bulblets absent. Leaves 8-30 × 2-8 cm; petiole winged; blade (usually suffused with red at base even when dry), usually oblanceolate to oblong or spatulate, rarely ovate, base decurrent onto stem, gradually tapering to petiole, margins usually entire, rarely coarsely toothed, surfaces glabrous. Inflorescences 1-25(-125)-flowered; bracts lanceolate, 3-10 mm, usually glabrous, rarely glandular-pubescent. Pedicels (1.5-)3-7 cm, usually glabrous, rarely glandular-pubescent. Flowers: calyx light green to green, 5-12 mm, glabrous, tube 2-3.8 mm, lobes 5, (2.5-)3-7(-9) mm; corolla tube maroon and yellow with dark maroon, ± thick, wavy ring, lobes 5, white or lavender to magenta, (10-)12-25(-27) mm; filaments usually connate, tube yellow, 0.5-3 × 1-2 mm; anthers (4-)5.5-10 mm; pollen sacs yellow, sometimes speckled with red or maroon, connective purple, dark maroon, or black, smooth; stigmas not enlarged compared to style. Capsules dark reddish brown, valvate, cylindric-ovoid, 7-18(-21) × 4-6(-9) mm, glabrous; walls thick, firm. Seeds without membrane along edges. 2n = 88. Flowering spring-early summer. Moist or dry hardwoods, prairies, and limestone slopes and cliff faces; 30-1000(-1600) m; Man.; Ala., Ark., D.C., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Kans., Ky., La., Mich., Minn., Miss., Mo., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Okla., Pa., S.C., Tenn., Tex., Va., W.Va., Wis. Dodecatheon meadia is widespread and highly variable. Many segregate species and infraspecific entities have been proposed. Except for recognizing D. frenchii (a diploid), partitioning D. meadia (a tetraploid) into finer units as done by N. C. Fassett (1944) is unrealistic. It has been traditional to distinguish at least two varieties. The typical variety is mainly a plant of the north and east with anthers 6.5-10 mm, capsules 10-18(-21) mm, calyx lobes 4-8 mm, and corolla lobes 12-20 mm. To the south and west (mainly Missouri, eastern Oklahoma, eastern Texas, and Arkansas to northwest Alabama, Tennessee, and Virginia) plants with anthers 4-7(-8) mm, capsules 7-10 mm, calyx lobes 3-5 mm, and corolla lobes 10-15 mm occur; these have been termed var. brachycarpum. A distinction is not made here because both entities are sometimes found growing together, and each can be found, often as individual plants, well outside its expected range. Flower color varies in a different pattern. Most of the southern populations of D. media have white petals; those of the north (including the Linnaean type) have lavender to magenta petals. Throughout the range, petals are sometimes more pinkish or are white with a tinge of purple. In southern Missouri and northern Arkansas are plants with alabaster white petals. All too often, a single population will vary in petal color, making a taxonomic distinction dubious. Plants with ovoid capsules 9-10 × 4-9 mm occur in Alabama; these were named var. obesum Fassett. Although the ovoid condition appears to be restricted geographically, it is doubtful that it diagnoses a well-marked variety. Dodecatheon meadia is locally common in some areas; on its geographical edges, it is often rare and thus of local concern to some state heritage programs. The species is commonly cultivated and numerous cultivars have been developed.
From Flora of Indiana (1940) by Charles C. Deam
Mostly on high, wooded banks and bluffs of streams and in prairies, more rarely on wooded slopes, and very rarely in marshes. The flowers vary in color from white to deep pink. Plants with white flowers are known as f. alba Macbride (Field Museum Nat. Hist. Publ. Bot. Ser. 8: 129. 1930.)
Lvs oblong to oblanceolate or rarely ovate, 6-20 cm, usually tinged or marked with red at the base; scapes 2-6 dm; fls few to many; cor-lobes narrow, white to lavender or lilac, rarely magenta, 1-2.5 cm; capsules dark reddish-brown, 8-18 mm, thickest near the base, firm-walled. Moist or dry woods and prairies; Md. to Ga. and Ala., w. to s. Wis., se. Minn., Io., Okla. and Tex. May, June. Three vars.
Gleason, Henry A. & Cronquist, Arthur J. 1991. Manual of vascular plants of northeastern United States and adjacent Canada. lxxv + 910 pp.