Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Striped Gentian (Gentiana villosa)

September 21st, 2012. The next promising roads after the Coleman River Road and the Tallulah River – Tate City roads were the Popcorn – Plum Orchard roads, still in Rabun County.
Popcorn Road drops quite steeply from US-76 and then climbs quite steeply again. When it drops down into the next valley, the road fords and unnamed creek and curves slightly to the left. The road then winds its way uphill into an area dominated by rhododendrons and crossed several times by small creeks; this area is full of springs. When Popcorn Road met Plum Orchard Road, we continued up Plum Orchard Road.

We made the most exciting find along these roads late in the afternoon in deep shade under a canopy of rhododendrons. A single gentian plant with white flowers that were easy to spot. At a distance they were pure white and more bottle-shaped than the blue-striped flowers the Gentiana decora (Showy Gentian) flowers we’d seen at many sites in the county.

There are two species, Gentiana villosa (Striped Gentian) and Gentiana alba (Plain Gentian), that have cream-white flowers. Distribution maps suggested that this was G. villosa but the flowers appeared to be cream-white without any blue-purple stripes. Since G. alba has been documented to occur in North Carolina and Rabun County abuts North Carolina, it seemed plausible that this might be G. alba particularly since plants, in general, don’t seem to have read the distribution maps and are often found in locations other than those that have been documented officially.

Since A. L. Gibson at Natural Treasures of Ohio is familiar with, and has posted photographs of G. alba here and here as well as a close-up photo here. I asked him to look at these photographs. He has identified these flowers as G. villosa. Many thanks, Andrew!

The flower head. The green veining adds to the beauty of these flowers. There are some hints of purple that Andrew spotted in enlargements of this photo. Since there was only one flower head and the flowers were so perfect, I remember being consciously reluctant to even touch them although I may have been the only person to have appreciated their beauty this season.

Closer views of the flowers from slightly different angles. These are, indeed, exquisitely beautiful flowers.

A leaf

There was another gentian plant in bloom a few feet from this one. The flowers were blue and, although I photographed them, I discounted them at the time. However, when preparing this post, I went back to study the blue flowers only to find that they, too, were G. villosa flowers but a uniform blue with the green veining visible in the cream-white flowers.

The flower head with the blue flowers. These flowers have opened slightly further than the cream-white flowers had, and…

the blue-purple stripes are just visible in the flower on the right.

A leaf on the ‘blue’ plant.

Originally I thought that the cream-white flowers were the rare ones but it may be that these blue flowers are the unusual flowers of this species.

It’s interesting that the distribution maps for G. villosa indicate that they may be found in many counties in Georgia, although not formally documented in Rabun County. I’m surprised that, given the number of patches with numerous G. decora plants we found in this county, we didn’t see more G. villosa plants during our travels through the country. Interestingly, also, other photographers in the Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina area who’ve posted photos of Gentiana species have not posted photographs of G. villosa. Based on the distribution map for this species, it would appear that it should be relatively easy to find in all three states. Are G. villosa plants unusual or are we just looking for this species in the wrong place at the wrong time? Future forays will tell…

Gentiana villosa (Striped Gentian) is native to the United States and has been documented from New Jersey west to Indiana and south to Louisiana and Florida. In Georgia, it’s been documented in counties throughout the state, more frequently in counties in the northern part of the state. Interestingly it hasn’t been documented in Rabun County.

Gentiana alba (Plain Gentian) is also native to the United States where it’s been documented from Maryland west to Minnesota and south to Kansas and Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kentucky; it’s also been documented in North Carolina but not in Tennessee, South Carolina, or Georgia. A more detailed map available throught the University of North Carolina University Herbarium*  shows counties in which G. alba has been documented does not show locations in North Carolina.
*Currently the site is being updated. Go to this site and type the species name into the ‘Name’ field to obtain the detailed map.
Click on an image to view a larger image

Identification Resources:
Southeastern Flora

Natural and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia:

United States Department of Agriculture Plants Database:
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