Iowa wildflower Wednesday: Cream gentian

Katie Byerly features a delicate plant that blooms in the late summer.

There are more than 400 gentian species globally, with most growing in the mountains in Europe. In Iowa one might be lucky to find seven different species of gentian. Six of those have brilliant bluish purple flowers. Then there is Cream Gentian (Gentiana alba), also called Pale, Plain, or Yellow Gentian. Cream gentian flowers can be an off-white creamy color, or a yellowish white or a greenish white.

No matter what color you find, all flowers share the greenish yellow venation on the petals.

The tubular/bottle shaped flower head of cream gentian is similar to its purple cousin bottle gentian. But whereas bottle gentian flowers stay closed, the five petals of cream gentian open up just a little. Both plants are pollinated by large bumblebees, the only insects strong enough to get into the flower.

I look forward to seeing cream gentian every year in the prairie at the Lime Creek Nature Center in Mason City. This large, beautiful patch has been in the same area for years and is spreading across the path.

Cream gentian blooms about three weeks earlier than other gentian species in Iowa and has a blooming period of about one and a half months. These pictures were taken during the third week of August.

There are usually between two and seven flowers on the top of the plant under a whorl of waxy bright green leaves.

If the plant has more blooms, these will be found lower down, peeking out from the leaf axils.

The leaf colors vary from yellowish to almost neon green, depending on the plant’s location and amount of sun it is receiving. The lower leaves clasp the stem and hold on so close to the stem that the opposite leaves often touch each other.

The flower heads turn brown when they dry. They develop seed capsules that split open and disperse tiny seeds into the wind. Here I caught a grasshopper snoozing on the drying flowers.

Lime Creek Nature Center was donated to Cerro Gordo County by the local cement plant. I enjoyed finding cream gentian near the Quarry Lake at the base of the Limestone bluff with my wildflower hunting partner, Prairie Dog. I am always amazed when you find wildflowers in locations where they normally shouldn’t be growing.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my cream gentian photos with you. Please check out my Iowa Prairie Girl video on this plant and other wildflower videos on my YouTube channel.

Tags: Wildflowers

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  • Lovely photos...

    …and a lovely reason (one of many) to care about bumblebees, the fuzzy teddy bears of pollination that are now in serious trouble.