Saturday, August 11, 2012

Narrowleaf? Gentian

Narrow-leaved Gentian on Whiteface - © Dave Spier
Gentian on Whiteface -- © Dave Spier

For some reason, gentians have always fascinated me.  Maybe it's because I usually come across one of the closed or bottle-type gentians and wonder how it gets pollinated.  Such is the case with a tentatively-identified Narrow-leaved Gentian (Gentiana linearis), a.k.a. Narrowleaf Gentian, beside the Memorial Highway on Whiteface (Mountain) above Wilmington.  It has showy violet-blue flowers, but the tips of the five lobes ("petals") bend in at the top and meet. [ I found one source claiming it has four petals, but it's my personal policy to not disturb native wild flowers and I didn't think to count the lobes at the time. Fringed gentians have four obvious petals, so that's likely where the confusion lies.] Soapwort Gentian (Gentiana saponaria), generally a more southerly species,* is another possible ID, but its flowers tend to be slightly open at the top and fringed between the lobes.
I imagine insects force their way in to reach the gentian's nectary glands. Apparently this perennial is of special benefit to bumble bees, and I assume they're the ones strong enough to part the tips.  Sorry, I didn't stay around long enough to find out.

On G. linearis, the lance-shaped leaves are opposite on a single stalk, and the sepals (modified leaves) at the base of the flowers are a similar shape. By comparison, the leaves of Soapwort Gentian are slightly wider with a broader point at the tip.

Narrow-leaved Gentian is found from Manitoba to Maine and south in the mountains to Tennessee. The USDA Plants Database map for New York shows its range spread around the Adirondacks plus one county in the Catskills, indicating it's a higher-elevation species. *Several similar species of the blue closed/bottle gentians have more southerly ranges. Red species of gentians are dominant in the Andes where they are more dependent on pollination by birds.

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Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, by Lawrence Newcomb and Gordon Morrison (© 1977), published by Little, Brown & Co. -- see page 252
USDA Plants Database at
Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center at

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