Sunday, November 13, 2022

Striped gentian - Saponaria villosa


Striped gentian (Gentiana villosa) is Florida's most unique member of this beloved genus - having white to very pale blue striped flowers instead of the usual deep blue ones.  It is found in seven Panhandle counties in extreme north Florida, but is found in much of the Southeast Coastal Plain from Louisiana to Virginia and Maryland.  Throughout its range, it is most often encountered in open woodlands.

Although its Latin species name means "hairy", the foliage is decidedly glabrous.  The leaves are lanceolate but are typically wider above the middle of the leaf. The leaves are dark green and shiny. like other members of this genus, it is a perennial that dies back to the ground each winter and emerges again in early spring.  Mature plants can reach 2 feet in height.  The flowers buds are clustered at the top of the plant. Striped gentian typically blooms during the fall in late August to October. The flowers are pollinated mostly by bees that are attracted to their stripes and nectar. The seed capsules ripen during October to November. The seeds of G. villosa differ from other gentians because they are wingless.

Gentians have long been used medicinally by herbalists.  As one of its common names suggest  (Sampson's snakeroot), striped gentian is thought to aid in the relief of snakebites. In Appalachia, its roots are carried as a charm. The Catawba Indians used the boiled roots as medicine to relieve back pain. 

Despite the charm and utility of gentians, few are ever offered commercially and none are available from nurseries affiliated with FANN - the Florida Association of Native Nurseries.  This is regrettable and so this species and its relatives must solely be admired when encountered in the fall when hiking in  their preferred habitat.  Do not be tempted to collect it.

These photos were taken by Helen Roth and used by permission. 

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