Gentian Family

Bitter-bloom; Rose Pink; Square-stemmed Sabbatia;

Rosy Centaury

Sabbatia angularis

Flowers—Clear rose pink, with greenish star in centre, rarely white, fragrant, 1 1/2 in. broad or less, usually solitary on long peduncles at ends of branches. Calyx lobes very narrow; corolla of 5 rounded segments; stamens 5; style 2-cleft. Stem: Sharply 4-angled, 2 to 3 ft. high, with opposite branches, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, 5-nerved, oval tapering at tip, and clasping stem by broad base.

Preferred Habitat—Rich soil, meadows, thickets. Flowering Season—July—August.

Distribution—New York to Florida, westward to Ontario, Michigan, and Indian Territory.

During the drought of midsummer the lovely Rose Pink blooms inland with cheerful readiness to adapt itself to harder conditions than most of its moisture-loving kin will tolerate; but it may be noticed that although we may often times find it growing in dry soil, it never spreads in such luxuriant clusters as when the roots are struck beside meadow runnels and ditches. Probably the plant would be commoner than it is about populous Eastern districts were it not so much sought by herb-gatherers for use as a tonic medicine.

It was the Centaurea, represented here by the blue Ragged Sailor of gardens, and not our Centaury, a distinctly American group of plants, which, Ovid tells us, cured a wound in the foot of the Centaur Chiron, made by an arrow hurled by Hercules.

Three exquisite members of the Sabbatia tribe keep close to the Atlantic Coast in salt meadows and marshes, along the borders of brackish rivers, and very rarely in the sand at the edges of fresh-water ponds a little way inland. From Maine to Florida they range, and less frequently are met along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico so far as Louisiana. How bright and dainty they are! Whole meadows are radiant with their blushing loveliness. Probably if’ they consented to live far away from the sea, they would lose some of the deep, clear pink from out their lovely petals, since all flowers show a tendency to brighten their colors as they approach the coast. In England some of the same wild flowers we have here are far deeper-hued, owing, no doubt, to the fact that they live on a sea-girt, moisture-laden island, and also that the sun never scorches and blanches at the far north as it does in the United States.

The Sea or Marsh Pink or Rose of Plymouth (S. stellaris), whose graceful alternate branching stem attains a height of two feet only under most favorable conditions, from July to September opens a succession of pink flowers that often fade to white. The yellow eye is bordered with carmine. They measure about one inch across, and are usually solitary at the ends of branches, or else sway on slender peduncles from the axils. The upper leaves are narrow and bract-like; those lower down gradually widen as they approach the root.

Fringed Gentian Gentiana crinita

Flowers—Deep, bright blue, rarely white, several or many, about 2 in. high, stiffly erect, and solitary at ends of very long footstalk. Calyx of 4 unequal, acutely pointed lobes. Corolla funnel form, its four lobes spreading, rounded, fringed around ends, but scarcely on sides. Four stamens inserted on corolla tube; 1 pistil with 2 stigmas. Stein: 1 to 3 ft. high, usually branched, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, upper ones acute at tip, broadening to heart-shaped base, seated on stem. Fruit: A spindle-shaped, 2-valved capsule, containing numerous scaly, hairy seeds.

Preferred Habitat—Low, moist meadows and woods. Flowering Season—September—November. Distribution—Quebec, southward to Georgia, and westward beyond the Mississippi.

“Thou waitest late, and com’st alone

When woods are bare and birds have flown, And frosts and shortening days portend The aged year is near his end.

“Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye Look through its fringes to the sky, Blue—blue—as if that sky let fall A flower from its cerulean wall.”

When we come upon a bed of gentians on some sparkling October day, we can but repeat Bryant’s thoughts and express them prosaically who attempt description. In dark weather this sunshine lover remains shut, to protect its nectar and pollen from possible showers. An elusive plant is this gentian, which by no means always reappears in the same places year after year, for it is an annual whose seeds alone perpetuate it. Seating themselves on the winds when autumn gales shake them from out the home wall, these little hairy scales ride afar, and those that are so fortunate as to strike into soft, moist soil at the end of the journey, germinate. Because this flower is so rarely beautiful that few can resist the temptation of picking it, it is becoming sadly rare near large settlements.

Fifteen species of gentian have been gathered during a half-hour walk in Switzerland, where the pastures are spread with sheets of blue. Indeed, one can little realize the beauty of these heavenly flowers who has not seen them among the Alps.

A deep, intense blue is the Closed, Blind, or Bottle Gentian (G. Andrewsii), more truly the color of the “male bluebird’s back,” to which Thoreau likened the paler Fringed Gentian. Rarely some degenerate plant bears white flowers. As it is a perennial, we are likely to find it in its old haunts year after year; nevertheless its winged seeds sail far abroad to seek pastures new. This gentian also shows a preference for moist soil. Gray thought that it expanded slightly, and for a short time only in sunshine, but added that, although it is proterandrous, i. e., it matures and sheds its pollen before its stigma is susceptible to any, he believed it finally fertilized itself by the lobes of the stigma curling backward until they touched the anthers. But Gray was doubtless mistaken. Several authorities have recently proved that the flower is adapted to bumblebees. It offers them the last feast of the season, for although it comes into bloom in August southward, farther northward—and it extends from Quebec to the Northwest Territory—it lasts through October.