GENTIAN FAMILY - Gentianaceae: Fringed Gentian
Flowers--Deep, bright blue, rarely white, several or many, about 2 in. high, stiffly erect, and solitary at ends of very long footstalk. Calyx of 4 unequal, acutely pointed lobes. Corolla funnel form, its four lobes spreading, rounded, fringed around ends, but scarcely on sides. Four stamens inserted on corolla tube; 1 pistil with 2 stigmas. Stem: 1 to 3 ft. high, usually branched, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, upper ones acute at tip, broadening to heart-shaped base, seated on stem. Fruit: A spindle-shaped, 2-valved capsule, containing numerous scaly, hairy seeds.
Preferred Habitat--Low, moist meadows and woods.
Distribution--Quebec, southward to Georgia, and westward beyond the Mississippi.
"Thou waitest late, and com'st alone
When woods are bare and birds have flown,
And frosts and shortening days portend
The aged year is near his end.
"Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye
Look through its fringes to the sky,
Blue--blue--as if that sky let fall
A flower from its cerulean wall."
When we come upon a bed of gentians on some sparkling October day, we can but repeat Bryant's thoughts and express them prosaically who attempt description. In dark weather this sunshine lover remains shut, to protect its nectar and pollen from possible showers. An elusive plant is this gentian, which by no means always reappears in the same places year after year, for it is an annual whose seeds alone perpetuate it. Seating themselves on the winds when autumn gales shake them from out the home wall, these little hairy scales ride afar, and those that are so fortunate as to strike into soft, moist soil at the end of the journey, germinate. Because this flower is so rarely beautiful that few can resist the temptation of picking it, it is becoming sadly rare near large settlements.
Fifteen species of gentian have been gathered during a half-hour
walk in Switzerland, where the pastures are spread with sheets of
blue. Indeed, one can little realize the beauty of these heavenly
flowers who has not seen them among the Alps.
A deep, intense blue is the Closed, Blind, or Bottle Gentian (G. Andrewsii), more truly the color of the "male bluebird's back," to which Thoreau likened the paler Fringed Gentian. Rarely some degenerate plant bears white flowers. As it is a perennial, we are likely to find it in its old haunts year after year; nevertheless its winged seeds sail far abroad to seek pastures new. This gentian also shows a preference for moist soil. Gray thought that it expanded slightly, and for a short time only in sunshine, but added that, although it is proterandrous, i.e., it matures and sheds its pollen before its stigma is susceptible to any, he believed it finally fertilized itself by the lobes of the stigma curling backward until they touched the anthers. But Gray was doubtless mistaken. Several authorities have recently proved that the flower is adapted to bumblebees. It offers them the last feast of the season, for although it comes into bloom in August southward, farther northward--and it extends from Quebec to the Northwest Territory--it lasts through October.