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    The name, "gentian", is derived from "Gentius", a King of Illyria who is reputed to have found the local form of this plant beneficial for curing malaria in his troops.

     Linnaeus named the Gentian genus in 1753.

     See more blue Gentians and white Gentian.

Gentianella amarella

Gentianella amarella

Gentianella amarella subspecies heterosepala.  Synonyms: Gentianella heterosepala (Little Gentian)

Gentianella amarella subspecies acutaSynonyms: Gentianella acuta, Gentianella amarella. (Little Gentian)

Gentianaceae (Gentian Family)

Montane, subalpine.  Woodlands, meadows, openings.  Summer, fall.
Colorado Trail above Roaring Fork, August 29, 2004. Hillside Road, September 14, 2005.

These two subspecies are very difficult to tell apart. Flowers, stems, and leaves of the two are very similar.  Flowers of both are highly variable in size, ranging from a tiny 1/4 inch to well over an inch.  Plants are just as variable, ranging from a few inches tall to over eighteen inches. 

The plants are widely distributed, being found from low montane meadows to tree-line, and although preferring moist areas, they are  commonly found along warm, dry trails.  Plants bloom from July into September and are abundant along many trails, yet they rank as one of the most unnoticed abundant flowers in the mountains of the Four Corners.

The Gentianella genus was named by Moench from European specimens.  In 1957 John Gillett united G. heterosepala and G. acuta as subspecies of Gentianella amarella in his revision of the Gentianella genus.    G. amarella ssp. heterosepala was first collected in Utah in 1859;  G. amarella ssp. acuta was first collected in Europe in the mid-1700s.

"Gentianella" is Greek for "little Gentian". (The "ella" ending is a diminutive).  "Heterosepala" refers to the various sizes of the sepals.  "Acuta" is a common species name from the Latin for "sharp" and usually refers to the leaf or bract shape. "Amarella" is from the Latin "amarus" ("bitter"), and again the diminutive "ella".

Click for more photos and a discussion about the differences between the two taxa.

Gentianopsis barbellata
Gentianopsis barbellata (Little Fringed Gentian)
Gentianaceae (Gentian Family)

Subalpine, alpine.  Grassy, rocky slopes.  Summer, fall.
Horse Creek Trail, August 31, 2005.

Gentianopsis barbellata is uncommon in the Four Corners area, and, in fact, in the counties that touch the Four Corners, only San Juan County, Utah, has recorded this plant. (In August of 2011, Betty and I found this lovely plant in the farthest southwest county of Colorado (Montezuma County), so my statement above is no longer correct.)

Gentianopsis barbellata grows one-to-five inches tall, spreads by underground roots, has mostly basal leaves, and is found in quite different conditions from its cousin, Gentianopsis thermalis, pictured below.  Look for G. barbellata in subalpine and alpine meadows, especially, as here, on rocky-grassy slopes.  (The red runners belong to Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana.)

G. barbellata differs from G. thermalis in being much shorter, growing in drier sites, having very short versus very long peduncles (the flower stem) and in having the base of these peduncles surrounded very closely by several bract-like leaves. The petals of G. barbellata are broadest at the bottom and taper to a gently rounded tip; the petals of G. thermalis are broadest at the tip. The fringing on the petals of the two plants is quite different and so too is the shade of purple.

"Barbellata" is Latin for "small bearded" and refers to the tiny fringing of the petals.

This plant was first collected by famed botanist, Charles Parry, on the summit of Colorado's Mount Flora in 1862.  Parry's equally famous friend, George Engelmann, named the plant Gentiana barbellata in 1863.  Hugh Iltis renamed it in 1965 placing it in Gentianopsis, the genus Ma created (see entry above).

More Gentianopsis barbellata photographs.

Gentianopsis thermalis
Gentianopsis thermalis.  Synonyms: Gentiana thermalis, Gentianopsis detonsa.  (Fringed Gentian)
Gentianaceae (Gentian Family)

Subalpine, alpine.  Meadows, wetlands.  Summer, fall.
Groundhog Meadow Trail, July 31, 2004.

In wet meadows and stream-sides, Fringed Gentian carpets in a purple that demands a close look. Fringed Gentianís four petals are a marvel; they twist and fold over each other and then open wide with each dayís sunlight. Petal tips are slightly scalloped, delicately fringed on the lower side, and streaked with darker strokes of purple. Look for Fringed Gentian in late summer and early fall.

More Gentianopsis thermalis photographs.

Christen Rottboell named this species Gentiana detonsa in 1770 from specimens collected in Iceland.  The plant has undergone a number of name changes (Gentiana thermalis, Gentianella detonsa subspecies elegans, etc.) since then, the latest being by Yu-Chan Ma to Gentianopsis thermalis.  Ma named this genus.

"Gentianopsis" and "thermalis" are of Greek derivation: "having the appearance of a Gentian" and "of warmth".

Gentianopsis thermalis
Gentianopsis thermalis.  Synonyms: Gentiana thermalis, Gentianopsis detonsa.  (Fringed Gentian)
Gentianaceae (Gentian Family)

Subalpine, alpine.  Meadows, wetlands.  Summer, fall.
Groundhog Meadow Trail, July 31, 2004.

Range maps © John Kartesz,
Floristic Synthesis of North America

State Color Key

Species present in state and native
Species present in state and exotic
Species not present in state

County Color Key

Species present and not rare
Species present and rare
Species extirpated (historic)
Species extinct
Species noxious
Species exotic and present
Native species, but adventive in state
Eradicated
Questionable presence

Range map for Gentianella acuta and Gentianella heterosepala

Range map for Gentianopsis barbellata

Range map for Gentianopsis thermalis