Three Gentians in the West Valley!

by Pat Jaquith
pat@westvalleynaturalists.org

When I first heard the word “gentian”, it was in reference to a veterinary medicine that I needed to apply to a cow I was tending. It was called “Gentian Blue” and although I had little understanding of its role in healing my bovine, it was the most intense blue I had ever seen! Subsequently, my appreciation of the various hues of blue have been in reference to the blue of that medicine. It was many years before I moved to the west where I saw my first flower in the Gentian family, and I was amazed to learn that the green plant I saw was a Gentian! (Frasera speciosa). That one doesn’t grow in the West Valley, but here are some I have encountered here.

GENTIANELLA amarella Northern Gentian. This species is the first to blossom in the West Valley – usually from mid-June to mid-July. This plant is an annual or biennial. I’ve encountered them in grassy meadows, wet meadows, open forests, and along trails.

HALENIA deflexa This annual species seems to prefer damp, shady environments. Their jester’s cap-shaped bloom with its upswept spurs varies among shades of green and lavender, with the amount of sun it receives seeming to affect the amount of lavender. I’ve found them in full bloom as small as 2 inches tall to a foot in height. Occasionally I’ve found Halenia and Northern Gentian in the same area. Halenia blossoms between July and early August. Be prepared to get down on the ground to fully enjoy the delicate beauty of these little flowers!

GENTIANA affinis Prairie Gentian This species is the last to blossom in the West Valley. I’ve found small clumps of this perennial in an open meadow in full sun in between early August and the tenth of September. I’ve visited the site on a bright sunny day at 10:30 in the morning or at 3:00 on a slightly overcast day to find them closed. But when I arrive after 12:30 in the heat of the day with full sun, I’m treated to the vivid blue I expected of gentians! The 5 petals adorned with a sprinkle of silver spread to welcome pollinators, keeping a little pleat (or gusset!) between the petals as if to enable them to safely open even more widely.

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