Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fringed Gentians of the Northeastern United States

Late summer brings on the charismatic blues of fringed gentians in calcareous soils throughout the northeastern United States. I have recently spoken with several people who have confused our two species of Gentianopsis. It's certainly easy to confuse these two, as they are very similar, and intermediates between the two species have been observed. In fact, in looking through some of my old photos, I found at least one that I think I misidentified many years ago. With this post, I hope to clear up some of the confusion.

Sometimes treated as a single genus (Gentiana), the gentians in the northeastern United States are taxonomically split by most authors into three genera: Gentiana, Gentianella, and Gentianopsis. Before I get to the fringed gentians, let's look at how the three genera, in the strict sense, differ.

The photograph above shows an open flower of Gentiana saponaria. The flowers of this species are usually more closed than this, but this photo nicely shows one of the important characteristics of the genus Gentiana when separating it from Gentianella and Gentianopsis. Between the corolla lobes, you will see membranaceous appendages. Gentiana, sensu stricto, has teeth, appendages, or plaits between the corolla lobes, while Gentianella and Gentianopsis lack this character. Also, members of the genus Gentiana are perennial, while those of the genera Gentianella and Gentianopsis are annual or biennial.

Gentianella amarella is shown in the photograph above. As stated previously, members of the genera Gentianella and Gentianopsis lack the appendages between the corolla lobes that are present in members of the genus Gentiana. To distinguish Gentianella from Gentianopsis, look at the corolla lobes. Gentianella does not have fringed corolla lobes, while the corolla lobes of Gentianopsis are fringed along the sides and often around the top.

You can see in the photograph directly above and those below that the corolla lobes are conspicuously fringed, so all of these photos show plants in the genus Gentianopsis. The photograph above shows Gentianopsis crinita, Fringed Gentian. The photograph quality is poor, but you can see that the corolla lobes are fringed across the top and along the sides with long (2-6 mm) linear segments. You can also see broad, lance-ovate leaves (often more than 1 cm wide)characteristic of this species.

Above is a close-up of the flower of Gentianopsis procera, Lesser Fringed Gentian. Notice the long, linear fringes on the sides of the corolla lobes, but the short (less than 2 mm), irregular, broad-based fringes along the top of the corolla lobes. In the photograph below, you can see the vegetative distinguishing character between the two species of Gentianopsis. In Gentianopsis procera, the upper leaves are linear or very narrowly lanceolate (often less than 1 cm wide).

Now get out there and admire these cerulean marvels!


Justin Thomas said...

Great post, Scott, as usual. Not living in hard-core gentian country, I appreciate the chance to refresh my brain on the group. That last photo of Gentiana procera is one of the best shots of any plant I have seen in a while.

Scott said...

Hey Justin. Glad you enjoyed the post. The gentians definitely are a cool group; I saw several that were new to me in Colorado this summer.

The way that I read your last sentence is... it's time for Keith to post more of his photos!

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These flowers are very decorative are great, I love learning about these things, because flowers are the most beautiful quality which is our mother nature

Scott Namestnik said...

Thanks A.S. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, and hope you enjoy visiting our blog.

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