Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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Featured Plant: Gentiana puberulenta J.S.Pringle

Downy gentian, prairie gentian

large photo of flower Family: Gentianaceae or Gentian

Gentiana: named after Gentius, King of Illyria, who around 500 B.C. found the roots of the herb yellow gentian or bitterwort to have a healing effect on his malaria-stricken troops


puberulenta: with tiny hairs

Downy Gentian, Prairie Gentian

The funnel shaped 1 1/2- 2" long deep blue mostly stalkless flowers, cluster flower cluster at the top of the weakly erect 8"-20" stems. Sometimes short-stalked flowers will arise from the leaf axils of the upper leaves. This gentian can be distinguished from the other fall blooming gentians by it color, flaring petals, and separate white anthers (pollen bearing organ). Occasionally a flower will be found in a white color with blue highlights.white form of flower

The opposite leaves are 1-2 inches long to 1 inch wide and lance-shaped. They have smooth margins and, except for tiny hairs at the base of the central vein, are smooth and shiny.
leaves

The species name describes the minute hairs or fuzz found along the stems often occurring to some extent in lines.stem

The many tiny seeds are found  enclosed in a papery capsule which splits down its side. The Black Blister Beetle (Epicauta pensylvanica) and other insects may chew on the flowers and eat the seeds.

Ethnobotany: In the roots of almost all gentians is a bitter principle which has long been used as an ingredient in a tonic. One of the most important uses is the pleasure the flower gives to those who find and enjoy its beauty at the end of the summer and before the snow flies.

 

Other facts:  Often this startlingly blue flower can be seen after a killing frost in among the golden colors of fall. It is almost like coming across bird eggs hidden among the grasses of the prairie. It is never abundant, but dots the prairie with small patches of blue. Its range is from the central part of Canada through the central US once south to Louisiana where it is now thought to be extirpated.

This plant grows best in dry limy prairies and seemed to flourish in this very dry year. I found many more than usual in my recent seed collecting foray this fall even though the ground is powdery dry. Because of its relatively short stature, it is thought to survive grazing and to even prosper as a result of the removal of competing vegetation. It is a good indicator species of a native high quality prairie remnant and responds well to occasional burning.

 

Propagation: The seeds, when one is lucky enough to find them uneaten, can be collected and sown immediately in late fall. Success is usually limited.

 

Blooming Buddies include: yellow - gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), ; white - frost aster (Aster pilosus) and several other late-blooming asters; blue - azure aster (Aster oolentangiensis).

 

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Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

Herbarium

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