Gentian season is upon us and the prairie gentian is the star of the season! This lovely low blooming plant has deep violet-purple 5-lobed flowers, about 2″ long and 1″ across when fully open.
The flowering period begins in September, lasting about a month. The flowers are not fragrant but attract bumblebees, their main pollinator, with an abundant supply of nectar. Prairie gentian is found primarily in the Midwest, from Minnesota south to Louisiana and east to New York.
An indicator of original prairie, it is endangered or threatened in 6 states. Found in mesic to dry prairie, occasional spring burns help remove grassy thatch that would choke the plant.
its stems and leaf margins have minute hairs that earn its other common name, downy gentian. It produces tiny seeds in capsules that split to disperse the seeds by water or wind.
Prairie gentians are slow growing, taking 2-7 years to reach blooming size. Each plant represents a precious bit of our native flora’s endurance and resilience.