Thursday, January 20, 2011

Soapwort Gentian - Gentiana saponaria

Soapwort gentian (Gentiana saponaria) is quite rare in Florida; occurring naturally only in riverine wetlands in Gadsden and Wakulla Counties in the central Panhandle.  This is yet another example of a plant rare in Florida and at its extreme southern distributional range. It occurs nearly throughout the eastern half of the US - even into the northern peninsula of Michigan. Throughout its distribution, it is limited to moist soil habitats and often in partially shady locations.  Of the four gentians in Florida (all limited to the panhandle), soapwort gentian has the most limited state distribution.
Soapwort gentian is a perennial that dies partially back to the ground in winter.  It emerges in early spring and eventually may reach a mature height of 1-2 feet.  The lance-shaped leaves are opposite on the slender stems and light green.
Blooming generally occurs in mid summer, after the start of the typical rainy season, though this one planted in my Pinellas County yard decided to produce a solitary flower in mid January.  The flowers, like other gentians, are urn shaped and a beautiful sky blue in color.  Typically, they open only slightly at the tip of the bloom; excluding most pollinators except certain bees with long enough tongues.
Soapwort gentian is one of many Florida wildflowers that can be grown successfully outside its natural range if given the right conditions.  We keep ours in landscape pots with good potting soil that we keep moist. We relish the beauty of this plant, but are not likely to attempt propagating it at Hawthorn Hill.  Thankfully, another Florida nurseryperson, Dan Miller of Trillium Gardens in Tallahassee, is making it available.  If you are interested, please contact him at: and ask him for a price list. He is currently growing a great many outstanding north Florida wildflowers that are available from no one else in the state.

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