This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
This maritime and inland plant is found in the North Temperate Zone in Europe, South of Scotland, N. Africa, and has been introduced in North America. It is unknown in any early deposits. In Great Britain it occurs on all the coasts, except Kincardine, N. Aberdeen, Banff, W. Sutherland, Caithness, Orkneys, and is rare in the Shetlands.
Centaury is essentially a maritime species, growing on practically all the coasts of counties in Great Britain where the shore is sandy. But it also occurs inland, and there grows on dry pastures and in sandy fields, often in quarries or pits where exposed rocks have produced a suitable sandy soil.
Centaury is a short, erect plant, repeatedly dividing into two above, with a single stem below, square-stalked, with oblong egg-shaped, lance-shaped leaves, with numerous parallel veins, and smooth, the upper leaves acute. There are numerous radical leaves.
The flower is red or pink, with two kinds of style, and borne in a panicled corymb of flowers, open in fine weather only. The flowers are nearly stalkless. The calyx, 5-fid, is less than the corolla, which is tubular, and the flowering stems are repeatedly divided. The 5 lobes of the corolla are oval. The lateral flowers are stalked, or stalkless between two floral leaves. The capsule is slender.
The plant is about 6 in. to a foot in height. The flowers bloom in July and August, lasting 4 or 5 days, and are open from 5-7 a.m. up till midday, closing if it rains. It is a deciduous, herbaceous plant, propagated by seed.
The anthers and stigma are mature at the same time, and the flower is somewhat heterostylic, with pollen of different sizes. The flowers contain no honey, but are visited by Lepidoptera. The spiral stamens, like the twisting of the stigma in Sileneae (which are pollinated by Lepidoptera), seem to be an adaptation to secure its being touched by the thin proboscis. At first the stamens and pistil are far apart, but approach later. Probably some soft tissue is pierced by the insect with the sharp points at the tip of the proboscis to get at the sweet sap. The flower is visited by the Humming-bird Hawk Moth, Macroglossa stellatarum, Agrotis pronuba, and other Lepidoptera, Bees, and by the Dipterous Empis.
The capsule is divided by septa, and when ripe the parts break away and fall around the parent plant, allowing the seeds to escape.
Photo. Dr. Somerville Hastings - Centaury (Centaurium umbellatum, Gilib.)
Centaury is a sand plant, and grows in sand soil on heaths and bare ground.
Centaury is a food plant for Pterophorus hoeuri.
Centaurium, Dioscorides, is from the Latin, Centaur, Chiron the Centaur being reputed to have discovered its medicinal properties. The second Latin name refers to the umbellate head.
This plant is called Banwort, Bitter Herb, Bloodwort, Centaury, Little Centaury, Century, Christ's Ladder, Earth-gall, Feltrike, Feverfew, Mountain Flax, Gall-of-the-Earth, Gentian, Hurd-reve, Sanctuary. On the shores of the Moray Firth it is called Gentian, where an infusion is drunk as a tonic.
People used to burn it to expel serpents. An infusion was used to remove freckles. The plant contains a bitter principle like Gentian. It has been used as a tonic and febrifuge, and is a good stomachic.
Essential Specific Characters: 209. Centaurium umbellatum, Gilib. - Stem erect, quadrangular, branched above, leaves ovate, upper acute, flowers pink, sub-sessile, in corymbose cyme, calyx less than corolla, lobes of latter oval.