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Autumn Gentian

Gentianella amarella

  • Name also: Felwort, Northern Gentian
  • Family: Gentian Family – Gentianaceae
  • Growing form: Biennial herb.
  • Height: 10–30 cm (4–12 in.). Stem unbranched–branched, internodes 3–8, glabrous.
  • Flower: Corolla wheel-shaped, reddish violet, 14–18 mm (0.56–0.72 in.) long, fused, 5-lobed, with wide throat; throat mouth with corona (an additional small corolla) comprised of fringed lobes. Calyx 5-lobed, lobes same size, narrow. Stamens 5, anthers protected by calyx-tube. Pistil of 2 fused carpels, styles 2. Inflorescence a corymb.
  • Leaves: In basal rosette (often withering during flowering time) and opposite on stem, stalkless. Blade with entire margins, parallel-veined, rosette leaves obovate, blunt-tipped, stem leaves narrowly ovate–lanceolate, blunt–tapering tip.
  • Fruit: Loculicidal (2-parted) capsule.
  • Habitat: Meadows, pastures, roadsides.
  • Flowering time: July–September.
  • Endangerment: Endangered, protected on the Åland Islands.

Gentians contain compounds which are nowadays best known as ingredients of bitter alcoholic drinks. It has been used in the past to treat malaria, which has now disappeared from Finland, but gentian’s situation is not a whole lot better.

Autumn gentian’s habitat in Finland is split in two: it is – or has at least grown – on one hand in the south-west, and on the other hand in the east and north. Like many other gentians it has been in rapid decline over the last few decades. Its original habitats are possibly sun-baked calciferous grassy rocky outcrops, where dryness sustains the species demands for vegetation with bare patches. Low-growing vegetation and bare patches of land have also been essential to the plant when it grows on grazing meadows and other culturally influenced areas. The species made particular use of cattle, which usually leave it in peace.

The end of traditional forms of agriculture led to meadows becoming overgrown and re-forested, thus swallowing up most of autumn gentian’s habitat. The biennial plant forms a basal rosette in its first year, and there is no space or light to do this among high, dense vegetation, even if the seeds are able to germinate. Those rare stands that have remained are helped by traditional farming methods. Autumn gentian has sometimes spread from forested meadows to roadsides with low-growing vegetation.

Autumn gentian can be divided into two seasonal variations: (1) the earlier one, var. lingulata flowers in June–July, has 3–5 long internodes on its stem and blunt leaves, and (2) var. amarella, which blooms in August–September, has 5–8 quite short internodes and tapered stem leaves. Autumn gentian’s corolla is usually 5-lobed, while its close relative field gentian (G. campestris) is usually 4-lobed, and there are also differences in the calyxes.

Other species from the same family

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