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Native Wildflowers of the North Dakota Grasslands

JPG -- species photo

Bitter Gentian (Gentianella amarella)

Sometimes called "felwort," bitter gentian often can be found in bloom well into September. The species occurs circumboreally across the cooler regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Most records in North Dakota are for the northern and western counties.

The unbranched, individual stems of bitter gentian are one-to-two feet tall. Flowers are about three-quarters of an inch long, and vary in color from greenish-white to light lavender. Flowers are stalked and arise in clusters from the points of the stem where the opposite leaves join.

Bitter gentian is an annual or biennial plant. Annual plants reproduce from seed in a single season; biennials finish their reproductive cycle during their second growing season. This likely explains why we do not find bitter gentian in bloom every year. Conditions probably must be just right before the seeds will germinate or second-year plants flower. When they do, bitter gentian can sometimes be found in abundance on the slopes of moderately or lightly grazed prairie.

The bitter extract of many of the gentians was formerly used to stimulate and improve the appetite but I could find no specific references to the use of bitter gentian in this manner.

The gentian family (Gentianaceae) and the genus Gentianella ("little gentian") derive their names from Gentius, Kinq of Illyria who, according to Pliny, discovered the medicinal virtues of these plants. The specific name amarella stems from the Latin amarus which means "bitter." Bitter gentian was first described by the Swedish father of modern botany Carl von Linne (Linnaeus) in 1753.

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