The Gentian Family

Yellow-wort Marsh Gentian Common Centaury Marsh Gentian

What are they?

Although the gentian family (Gentianaceae) is quite variable, members can generally be recognised by their smooth appearance, opposite leaves and usually terminal, vividly-coloured flowers. Most members of the family seem always to have been scarce in the region and their presence at a location is often taken as a sign of a well-preserved habitat. Most species have four or five petals (one has eight) with the petals fused into a tube towards the base.

Where are they found?

Most species occur in good quality, grassy habitats on both chalky and acid soils, including heaths, commons and coastal areas such as dunes and cliff tops.

Identification

Most species are relatively easy to identify using the details given below. The exception comes with the centauries, where very careful attention needs to be paid to flower structure and bract placement, as well as leaf shape.



Common Centaury      Centaurium erythraea

Native. Found in areas of short or close-cropped grass, including coastal cliffs and dunes. Flowers June to October. Very similar to Lesser Centaury and hard to tell from it. Best key characters include the presence of a basal rosette of leaves and a gap of 1mm or less between the base of the sepals and the topmost bracts.

Common Centaury Common Centaury Common Centaury Common Centaury
Habit
Flowers
Flower from side
Basal leaves


Lesser Centaury      Centaurium puchellum

Native. Has probably always been rare in East Anglia and some records may well be due to confusion with Common Centaury. Scattered in areas of short grass, especially near the coast. Flowers June to October. Very similar to Common Centaury and hard to tell from it. Best key characters include the absence of a basal rosette of leaves and a gap of 1m-4mm between the base of the sepals and the topmost bracts.

Lesser Centaury Lesser Centaury Lesser Centaury
Habit
Flower
Flower


Yellow-wort      Blackstonia perfoliata

Native. Rare in East Anglia due to an absence of suitable habitat, but found at scattered locations on chalky soils in more southerly and westerly parts of the region. Flowers June to October. The brilliant yellow, eight-petalled flowers and glaucous, perfoliate leaves are unique.

Yellow-wort Yellow-wort Yellow-wort Yellow-wort
Habit
Flower
Sepals
Leaves


Field Gentian      Gentianella campestris

Native. Of uncertain status in East Anglia and possibly recently extinct, but worth keeping an eye out for. Formerly a scarce plant of grassy places. Flowers July to October. Differs from the rather similar Autumn Gentian by the calyx lobes, two of which are much largr than the other two.

Field Gentian Field Gentian
Habit
Flower


Marsh Gentian      Gentiana pneumonanthe

Native. Very rare in damp heathland; now extint in Suffolk and confined to just four locations in Norfolk. Flowers August to September. Unique in our region with narrow, linear leaves and rich blue trumpet-shaped flowers carried one to five on a stem.

Marsh Gentian Marsh Gentian Marsh Gentian Marsh Gentian
Habit
Habit
Flower
Leaf