Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii) is a native perennial that grows in damp meadows and woodlands with filtered light. It blooms late in the summer and into the fall. I took the photograph above late in September. The name ‘bottle’ refers to the odd flowers, which are compared to bottles. I prefer another common name, Closed Gentian, because what look like big fat buds never open. That’s it, what you see is what you get. It’s said that these flowers are pollinated by bumblebees because they’re the only insects strong enough to open the corolla tube.
The Bottle gentians growing in our field get to be about 2 feet tall. The leaves climb the stalk in opposite pairs, with a whorl of up to 7 leaves below the flower cluster. There are also a few Bottle gentians growing in the woods, and they tend to stay close to the ground, just a few inches tall.
Gentians are a large family, with more than 300 species to be found around the world. They are usually associated with cool summers and often grow in alpine habitats in temperate regions of the globe. The brilliant blue featured by many gentians makes them desirable garden additions.
This summer, I added my first gentian plant to my garden, Gentiana ‘True Blue’. It’s a hybrid from breeder Darrell Probst that was introduced in 2008. Probst is best known for his work on epimedium, but he has been breeding and introducing a variety of new plants from his Massachusetts nursery, Garden Vision, for three decades. His introductions include Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’ and Physostegia ‘Miss Manners’ and a series of coreopsis called Big Bang.
Gentiana ‘True Blue’ is reported to grow to 24 inches tall, but in its first year here, it has remained low growing. It settled in well, and I was pleased when I noticed it was preparing to bloom! Next year, it should flower earlier in the season, but it is fun to have these bright blue flowers in October. Unlike its native cousin, True Blue opens its flower so you can fully appreciate them.