Cary GeorgeThe Friends of the Wild Flower Garden


Gentian in the Garden

The Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden and Bird Sanctuary


by Cary George

Note: You can find more photos and information on each plant mentioned here by accessing the link to the individual plant pages or by going to the "Photos" menu. Additions to the original text in [ ].

Bottle Gentian
Bottle (Closed) gentian (Gentiana clausa Raf.)

By mid-summer the short grass areas of the Prairie Garden become a showcase for gentians. Bottle gentians (Gentiana clausa Raf. and G. andrewsii), often called closed gentians, are an iridescent cobalt blue and breathtaking to behold. While indigenous to the Garden, records show that Eloise Butler also moved gentians to the Garden from Washburn Park in south Minneapolis. [She first planted G. andrewsii in 1908 with plants from Mound, MN; in 1909 from plants obtained in Mahtomedi, MN; and again in 1910 and in most other years of her tenure. Likewise, Martha Crone planted the same species in 1933 and 1936 and in 9 different years thereafter.]

Plain Gentian
Plain (Cream, Pale, Yellow) gentian (Gentiana alba Muhl. ex Nutt. -old Gentiana flavida)

Yellowish gentians (Gentiana alba Muhl. ex Nutt. -old Gentiana flavida) are much more abundant than the blue bottle gentians. Indigenous to Wirth Park, yellowish gentian along with bottle gentians prefer sunny, wet meadows or stream banks - habitats that are becoming very scarce in the metropolitan area. [These were also planted often by the first two curators.]

Downy Gentian
Downy gentian (Gentiana puberulenta J.S.Pringle) Photo: G. Bebeau, taken at Jeffers Petroglyph National Monument.

One specimen of Downy Gentian (Gentiana puberulenta) persisted in the Garden until its disappearance in 1985. Unfortunately, I know of no commercial source to replace it. [By the time of the 2009 Garden Census, it was back in the Garden.]

Horse Gentian, while represented in the prairie, makes a good case for scientific names. Its scientific name, Triosteum perfoliatum L., puts it in the honeysuckle family - not really a gentian at all. It is an interesting plant, nonetheless, with its conspicuous yellow-orange fruits in the leaf axils.

A bit of good fortune came our way this year (2000) when Lisa Locken [Former editor of The Fringed Gentian™ ] donated eight Fringed Gentians (Gentiana crinita) she rescued from a mowed area near Detroit Lakes. As members are well aware this “dainty” gentian is this publication’s namesake. Eloise Butler’s garden logs show that both the Small Fringed Gentian (G. procera) and the larger Fringed Gentian (G. crinita) are both indigenous to Wirth Park and the Garden. Records also show many failed attempts by Martha Crone and Ken Avery to re-establish this biennial.

It is a very difficult plant to grow because of some specific cultural requirements: Alkaline, sandy soil that is high in humus and also moist - tough, almost contradictory conditions. So let’s keep our fingers crossed and with some luck and expertise, perhaps, the Fringed Gentian will flourish again in the Garden. [Ed. note: It was not to be].

Fringed Gentian
Fringed Gentians (Gentiana crinita). Photo Mark Mittelstadt, courtesy University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Flora.
Horse Gentian
Horse Gentian (Triosteum perfoliatum L.) with the orange autumn fruit.