Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Prairie Gentian

Fall is a distinct flowering season in the prairie community, but few people see the little gems that hide down among the tall grasses. The taller wands of the goldenrods are more familiar. What a delight to suddenly come upon the Prairie gentian (Gentiana puberulenta) and spot those brilliant blue flowers way down (only about 18" tall) among the browning grasses that presently stand some 7-8 feet tall. You cannot help but admire the intense blue color of gentian flowers whether they be little alpine species or our big flowered species, and naturally, gentian blue refers to a deep, slightly purple color. Virtually no specimens of this species have been added to our herbarium collection in the past 100 years which largely reflects how thoroughly the tall-grass prairie in Lincolnland has been eradicated. Another curious gentian also occurs in our area, the bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), but this species is not so renowned for its glorious flowers because the corolla never opens! This is an interesting means of limiting visits to those pollinators big enough to push their way in, which means bumblebees. Hard to know when this gentian is in full bloom.

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