FRINGED GENTIAN





(Gentiana crinita) Gentian family



Flowers - Deep, bright blue, rarely white, several or many, about

2 in. high, stiffly erect, and solitary at ends of very long

foot-stalk. Calyx of 4 unequal, acutely pointed lobes. Corolla

funnel form, its four lobes spreading, rounded, fringed around

ends, but scarcely on sides. Four stamens inserted on corolla

tube; 1 pistil with 2 stigmas. Stem: 1 to 3 ft. high, usually

branched, leafy. Leaves: Opposite, upper ones acute at tip,

broadening to heart-shaped base, seated on stem. Fruit: A

spindle-shaped, 2-valved capsule, containing numerous scaly,

hairy seeds.

Preferred Habitat - Low, moist meadows and woods.

Flowering Season - September-November.

Distribution - Quebec, southward to Georgia, and westward beyond

the Mississippi.



"Thou waitest late, and com'st alone

When woods are bare and birds have flown,

And frosts and shortening days portend

The aged year is near his end.



"Then doth thy sweet and quiet eye

Look through its fringes to the sky,

Blue - blue - as if that sky let fail

A flower from its cerulean wall."



When we come upon a bed of gentians on some sparkling October

day, we can but repeat Bryant's thoughts and express them

prosaically who attempt description. In dark weather this

sunshine lover remains shut, to protect its nectar and pollen

from possible showers. An elusive plant is this gentian, which by

no means always reappears in the same places year after year, for

it is an annual whose seeds alone perpetuate it. Seating

themselves on the winds when autumn gales shake them from out of

the home wall, these little hairy scales ride afar, and those

that are so fortunate as to strike into soft, moist soil at the

end of the journey, germinate. Because this flower is so rarely

beautiful that few can resist the temptation of picking it, it is

becoming sadly rare near large settlements.



The special importance of producing a quantity of fertile seed

has led the gentians to adopt proterandry - one of the commonest,

because most successful, methods of insuring it. The anthers,

coming to maturity early, shed their pollen on the bumblebees

that have been first attracted by their favorite color and the

enticing fringes before they crawl half way down the tube where

they can reach the nectar secreted in the walls. After the pollen

has been carried from the early flowers, and the stamens begin to

wither, up rises the pistil to be fertilized with pollen brought

from a newly opened blossom by the bee or butterfly. The late

development of the pistil accounts for the error often stated,

that some gentians have none. No doubt the fringe, which most

scientists regard simply as an additional attraction for winged

insects, serves a double purpose in entangling the feet of ants

and other crawlers that would climb over the edge to pilfer

sweets clearly intended for the bumblebee alone.



Fifteen species of gentian have been gathered during a half-hour

walk in Switzerland, where the pastures are spread with sheets of

blue. Indeed, one can little realize the beauty of these heavenly

flowers who has not seen them among the Alps.



The FIVE-FLOWERED or STIFF GENTIAN, or AGUE-WEED (Gentiana

quinquefolia; G. quinqueflora of Gray) has its five-parted,

small, picotee-edged blue flowers arranged in clusters, not

exceeding seven, at the ends of the branches or seated in the

leaf-axils. The slender, branching, ridged stem may rise only two

inches in dry soil; or perhaps two feet in rich, moist, rocky

ground, where it grows to perfection, especially in mountainous

regions. From Canada to Florida and westward to Missouri is its

range, and beginning to bloom in August southward, it may not be

found until September in the Catskills, and in October it is

still in its glory in Ontario. The colorless, bitter juice of

many of the gentian tribe has long been valued as a tonic in

medicine. Evidently the butterflies that pilfer this "ague-weed,"

and the bees that are its legitimate feasters, find something

more delectable in its blue walls.



A deep, intense blue is the CLOSED, BLIND, or BOTTLE GENTIAN (G.

Andrewsii), more truly the color of the "male bluebird's back,"

to which Thoreau likened the paler fringed gentian. Rarely some

degenerate plant bears white flowers. As it is a perennial, we

are likely to find it in its old haunts year after year;

nevertheless its winged seeds sail far abroad to seek pastures

new. This gentian also shows a preference for moist soil. Gray

thought that it expanded slightly, and for a short time only in

sunshine, but added that, although it is proterandrous, i.e. it

matures and sheds its pollen before its stigma is susceptible to

any, he believed it finally fertilized itself by the lobes of the

stigma curling backward until they touched the anthers. But Gray

was doubtless mistaken. Several authorities have recently proved

that the flower is adapted to bumblebees. It offers them the last

feast of the season, for although it comes into bloom in August

southward, farther northward - and it extends from Quebec to the

Northwest Territory - it lasts through October.



Now, how can a bumblebee enter this inhospitable-looking flower?

If he did but know it, it keeps closed for his special benefit,

having no fringes or hairs to entangle the feet of crawling

pilferers, and no better way of protecting its nectar from rain

and marauding butterflies that are not adapted to its needs. But

he is a powerful fellow. Watch him alight on a cluster of

blossoms, select the younger, nectar-bearing ones, that are

distinctly marked white against a light-blue background at the

mouth of the corolla for his special guidance. Old flowers from

which the nectar has been removed turn deep reddish purple, and

the white pathfinders become indistinct. With some difficulty, it

is true, the bumblebee (B. Americanorum) thrusts his tongue

through the valve of the chosen flower where the five plaited

lobes overlap one another; then he pushes with all his might

until his head having passed the entrance most of his body

follows, leaving only his hind legs and the tip of his abdomen

sticking out as he makes the circuit. He has much sense as well

as muscle, and does not risk imprisonment in what must prove a

tomb by a total and unnecessary disappearance within the bottle.

Presently he backs out, brushes the pollen from his head and

thorax into his baskets, and is off to fertilize an older,

stigmatic flower with the few grains of quickening dust that must

remain on his velvety head.





FRAGRANT FLOWERS OR LEAVES. FROM BLUE TO PURPLE FLOWERS facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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