I’m pleased to share more of Wendie Schneider’s photography today. Last month Wendie gave me permission to publish her pictures of round-headed bush clover. She found today’s featured plant in a restored Story County prairie as well.
Bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) is native to much of the northern U.S. and Canada, but not widespread. Sometimes known as Andrew’s gentian, it thrives in wet habitats: “moist black soil prairies, openings in floodplain forests, thickets, fens, and swampy areas near bodies of water.”
Like its relative downy gentian, bottle gentian typically has blue or purple flowers, though the blossoms can be pink or white. The distinguishing feature of this plant: its flowers stay closed even at the peak of the blooming period, inspiring the alternate common name closed bottle gentian.
The Illinois Wildflowers and Minnesota Wildflowers websites contain botanically accurate descriptions of bottle gentian foliage, flowers, and seed pods. Tip for gardeners: these wildflowers are “easier to start with potted plants rather than seed.”
Once you’ve seen this plant in bloom, you’re not likely to confuse it with anything else. Wendie’s pictures show the shades of purple to blue to pink.
According to the Illinois Wildflowers site,
Bumblebees are the primary pollinators of the flowers, as they are one of the few insects that can force their way past the closed corolla. This floral characteristic excludes smaller insects that are less efficient at pollination from robbing nectar and pollen from the bumblebees. Because the foliage and roots are bitter-tasting, mammalian herbivores usually don’t use this plant as a food source. However, deer may chomp off the tender tops of the plants before they have a chance to flower. This can cause the central stem to form smaller side branches. The seeds are too small to be of much interest to birds. The ecological value of Bottle Gentian is low, notwithstanding the appeal of the flowers to humans.
The Minnesota Wildflowers website explains,
The fused petals become a papery wrapping for a 1-inch capsule with the remains of the style at the top and a seam down the sides.
As the fruit ripens the seams split to release many seeds, each wrapped in papery wings to facilitate dispersal by wind.
Wendie captured this shot of seed pods developing on a bottle gentian plant: