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Stiff Gentian, Ague-Weed
Gentiana quinquefolia

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Stiff Gentian

Gentians are late-bloomers - often they are the last wildflowers you find in bloom along the hiking trails. Stiff Gentian, also called Ague-Weed, is commonly found in sunny , grassy patches near roadsides or trailheads, or up on exposed high ridges that get plenty of sun, but also where the soil is fairly rich and not too dry. They grow one to two feet high. Look for deep-purple, very long and narrow flowers that appear in clusters at the top of the plant, often in groups of five. The flowers stand stiffly upright, hence the common name. You might also note that the stems have four ridges. This particular Gentian is an annual, and often has many-branched stems and may be found growing in small groups. The leaves are broadly lance-shaped and are sessile (stalkless), with a noticeable single central vein running from the base to the tip. As you might see from the picture, the leaves can be tinted or blotched with purple. Gentians are strange plants - you would think that by blooming late in the year, they would take advantage of all those hungry bees and other insects, out looking for a late meal. But most Gentians have flowers that seem to remain completely closed. Apparently, bees in particular are the polinators for Gentians. They "know" that they can climb inside the flower to reach the nectar - they become completely enclosed by the flower, and have to work a bit to get back out. In the process, they pick up pollen  and carry it to the next plant. Stiff Gentian is very easy to recognize, and is easily distinguished from the few other Gentians in our area. The others you are likely to see might be Gentiana villosa, or Soapwort Gentian (G. saponaria). Possible but less likely are Closed Gentian (G. andrewsii) or Bottle Gentian (G. clausa) but they are very hard to tell apart. They all have blue - to - white, or even greenish flowers, more rounded and balloon-shaped than the Stiff Gentian, and all with closed or nearly closed flower tips. Last but not least is the Fringed Gentian, which does not have a closed flower, and has 4 petals instead of five like all the rest, but I have yet to find it anywhere in this area. If anyone has seen it, I would really appreciate the tip!

A note on the nomenclature (naming conventions) on this site: Scientific names and classifications are constantly being argued and changed, and it drives me nuts. Although I use many different sources for knowledge, for naming consistency  I  use the  "Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas" by Radford, Ahles and Bell, 1968 edition. This book is a well-established authority for the plants of our region and I've been using it for years. If for some reason I must use a different source for a particular plant, I will make note of it within the descriptive text. Don't like it? Tough!

Fiona Dudley
986 Reems Creek Road
Weaverville NC 28787


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