Stem. - One to two feet high. Leaves. - Opposite, lance-shaped or narrowly oval. Flowers. - Blue, large. Calyx. - Four-cleft, the lobes unequal. Corolla. - Funnel-form, with four fringed, spreading lobes. Stamens. - Four. Pistil. - One, with two stigmas.
In late September when we have almost ceased to hope for new flowers we are in luck if we chance upon this blossom bright with autumn dew whose sweet and quiet eye Looks through its fringes to the sky, Blue - blue - as if that sky let fall, A flower from its cerulean wall; * for the fringed gentian is fickle in its habits, and the fact that we have located it one season does not mean that we will find it in the same place the following year; being a biennial, with seeds that are easily washed away, it is apt to change its haunts from time to time. So our search for this plant is always attended with the charm of uncertainty. Once having ferreted out its new abiding-place, however, we can satiate ourselves with its loveliness, which it usually lavishes unstintingly upon the moist meadows which it has elected to honor.
Thoreau describes its color as "such a dark blue ! surpassing that of the male bluebird's back !" My experience has been that the flowers which grow in the shade are of a clear pure azure, " Heaven's own blue," as Bryant claims; while those which are found in open, sunny meadows may be justly said to vie with the back of the male bluebird. If the season has been a mild one we shall perhaps find a few blossoms lingering into November, but the plant is probably blighted by a severe frost, although Miss Emily Dickinson's little poem voices another opinion:
But just before the snows There came a purple creature
That ravished all the hill: And Summer hid her forehead,
And mockery was still. The frosts were her condition :
The Tyrian would not come Until the North evoked it,
"Creator! shall I bloom ? "
Plate CI. Fringed Gentian. - G. crinita