Botanical Name : Gentiana puberulenta
Sub Class: Asteridae
Species : Gentiana puberulenta Pringle – downy gentian
Common Names : Downy gentian
Habitat : Gentiana puberulenta is native to Central N. America – Manitoba to Ontario, south to Kansas and Arkansas. It grows on the prairies and other grassy places.
Gentiana puberulenta is a perennial flowering plant, growing to 0.4 m (1ft 4in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 6. It is in flower from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bumblebees, butterflies.
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Leaves and stems:
Leaves are simple and opposite, lance-shaped to lance-oblong, ¾ to 2¾ inches long and ¼ to ¾ inch wide, stalkless and toothless, with glossy surfaces and fine, short hairs along the midrib and/or edges, but only towards the base. Leaf pairs are at right angles to the pair above and below. Stems are erect to ascending, rarely branched, typically tinged reddish and are covered in minute, soft hairs, often in faint lines.
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Clusters of 1 to 9 flowers at the top of the stem and in the upper leaf axils. Flowers in the terminal cluster are stalkless and those in the axils are short stalked. Flowers are bright blue to deep blue-violet, 1½ to 2¼ inches across when fully open, upright, bell-like with 5 widely spreading, sharply pointed, oval to triangular lobes. Between the lobes is connective, pleat-like tissue, ragged on the outer edge and sometimes lighter colored. Inside the tube, the base of the petals is white with dark blue stripes or streaks; the outer surface of the petals is darker, almost purplish black. The column of white, creamy-tipped stamens in the center often become spreading with age. The calyx is short tubular with four narrow, leafy bracts widely spreading below the flower.
In general, gentians require a moist well-drained soil in a sheltered position, a certain minimum of atmospheric humidity, high light intensity but a site where temperatures are not too high. They are therefore more difficult to grow in areas with hot summers and in such a region they appreciate some protection from the strongest sunlight. Most species will grow well in the rock garden. This species requires a fairly dry site with good drainage. Plants are intolerant of root disturbance. A moisture loving plant, preferring to grow with full exposure to the sun but with plenty of underground moisture in the summer, it grows better in the north and west of Britain. This species is closely related to G. affinis.
Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a light position in a cold frame. It can also be sown in late winter or early spring but the seed germinates best if given a period of cold stratification and quickly loses viability when stored, with older seed germinating slowly and erratically. It is advantageous to keep the seed at about 10°c for a few days after sowing, to enable the seed to imbibe moisture. Following this with a period of at least 5 – 6 weeks with temperatures falling to between 0 and -5°c will usually produce reasonable germination. It is best to use clay pots, since plastic ones do not drain so freely and the moister conditions encourage the growth of moss, which will prevent germination of the seed. The seed should be surface-sown, or only covered with a very light dressing of compost. The seed requires dark for germination, so the pots should be covered with something like newspaper or be kept in the dark. Pot up the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow on in light shade in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. The seedlings grow on very slowly, taking 2 – 7 years to reach flowering size. When the plants are of sufficient size, place them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Division in March. Most members of this genus have either a single tap-root, or a compact root system united in a single root head, and are thus unsuitable for division. Cuttings of basal shoots in late spring.
The root is said to be an antidote to snakebites. This N. American species has medicinal properties practically identical with the European gentians. The following notes are based on the general uses of G. lutea which is the most commonly used species in the West. Gentian root has a long history of use as a herbal bitter in the treatment of digestive disorders and is an ingredient of many proprietary medicines. It contains some of the most bitter compounds known and is used as a scientific basis for measuring bitterness. It is especially useful in states of exhaustion from chronic disease and in all cases of debility, weakness of the digestive system and lack of appetite. It is one of the best strengtheners of the human system, stimulating the liver, gall bladder and digestive system, and is an excellent tonic to combine with a purgative in order to prevent its debilitating effects. The root is anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, bitter tonic, cholagogue, emmenagogue, febrifuge, refrigerant, stomachic. It is taken internally in the treatment of liver complaints, indigestion, gastric infections and anorexia . It should not be prescribed for patients with gastric or duodenal ulcers. The root is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. It is quite likely that the roots of plants that have not flowered are the richest in medicinal properties