Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Like most of our gentians, downy gentian blooms in August. In North Dakota, the plant is found east of a line from Benson to LaMoure Counties, with one odd record from Sioux. Elsewhere, the plant ranges from Manitoba to New York, south to Georgia and Kansas. The plant is sometimes called "prairie gentian."
Downy gentian is a perennial, usually single-stemmed plant up to 20 inches tall. Stems are minutely hairy, like the skin of a peach. The 2-inch long leaves are narrow and stiff; about a dozen pairs are usually present. Up to 10 bell-shaped flowers form a terminal cluster and also sometimes arise from the bases of the upper leaves. Flowers are one-to-two inches long and bluish-purple to rose-violet. As in all the gentians, the fruit is a many-seeded capsule.
This species prefers sandy, light soils in dry native prairie. Because of the relative scarcity of downy gentian, its response to livestock grazing is little known, but the species probably does best under light or moderate grazing like others in the genus. The roots of nearly all gentians contain a bitter principle long used in home remedies as a tonic.
The gentian family (Gentianaceae) and the generic name are derived from King Gentius of Illyria who, according to Pliny, discovered the medicinal virtues of these plants. The specific epithet puberulenta means "closely short hairy" in botanical Latin. Downy gentian was first described for science by Vermont botanist Cyrus Pringle (1838-1911). He is noted for his extensive collections from Mexico.