Closed Gentian

While performing a multi-day wetland delineation of a military installation in the ridge and valley mountains of Lebanon County, the Home of Hershey Chocolates, I came across Closed Gentian, aka Meadow Bottle Gentian or Bottle Gentian (Gentiana clausa) in flower.

This perennial plant is 1-2′ tall.  Multiple stems can emerge from the taproot, otherwise this plant is unbranched.  The central stem is round, hairless, and either light green or purple.  Leaves are glossy and unlike many other plants, leaves tend to become larger as they ascend the stem.  Leaf attachment is opposite, except at the very top of the plant where there is a whorl of leaves beneath the flower cluster.  The main stem is thick and smooth, light green or purplish.

The uppermost tier of leaves is often whorled.  The apex of the stem terminates in a cluster of flowers immediately above the whorled leaves, while smaller clusters of flowers may develop from the axils of the upper pairs of leaves.  These flowers are bottle-shaped, looking like oversized flower buds even when mature, and they are 1–1½” long.

Flowers never open and resemble large buds.  Color can vary greatly but is typically blue to purplish, occasionally pink or white.  A cluster of flowers sits at the top of the main stem.  Some plants have additional small clusters arising from the leaf axils in the upper part of the plant.

The corollas are violet, and will assume different shades of this color depending on the maturity of each flower.  There are longitudinal ridges along the outer edge of the corolla, providing it with a wrinkly appearance.  The corolla remains closed at the top even when the flower is ready to receive pollinating insects.

The blooming period can occur from late summer to early fall, and usually lasts about a month.  There is no noticeable floral scent.  The small seeds can be transported by water or wind some distance from a mother plant.  The root system consists of a stout taproot.  Vegetative reproduction does not normally occur.

Habitats include openings in floodplain forests, thickets, freshwater marshes, wet meadows, open canopy swamps, and swampy areas near bodies of water.

The species name clausa is Latin referring to “closed”.  The native wild gentians are uncommon and should not be collected.