September — Cream Gentian

by Tom Lewanski

I was sitting at my desk the other day, cause that’s what I do, when I suddenly and explosively realized that summer was waning. What the Sam heck (keeping it clean and family friendly) have I been doing? Well, I found I could still stand (not unlike the Captain in Wall-E) so I grabbed my camera and staggered out into the sunshine. In fact I had not missed everything that the growing season has to offer. There were still birds singing, bees were still buzzing and yes there were even some plants in bloom. Granted, I missed many plants in all of their blooming glory but still as I ran to the window of the natural world, threw open the shutters and peered out, I realized, like Ebenezer Scrooge in a weird, warped sort of way, that I hadn’t missed Christmas or in this case Flowermas at all.

Okay, I had missed blooming purple prairie clover, pasqueflower, Dutchmen’s britches, and butterfly weed and a host of others. However, I discovered that the gentians are blooming, specifically the cream gentian (Gentiana flavida or alba). Now gentians as a group are pretty cool but the cream gentian is, in my humble opinion, one of the best. Many of the gentians’ flowers are blue in color while our little cream friend is, you guessed it, yellowish to whitish. The flowers, which emerge in late summer, look like long tubes and are pollinated by bumblebees. It is a perennial plant that grows up to about 2 feet tall. This plant likes it sunny or maybe with just a hint of shade, such as a prairie or oak savanna might offer. Some ecologists view the cream gentian as an indicator species for oak savanna, one of Minnesota’s rarest natural communities. This gentian is not rare in Minnesota but it certainly is unusual. It is considered endangered or threatened in a number of states east of Minnesota including Wisconsin and Michigan.

There is still time this year to get out and enjoy our native flowering plants. Pine Bend Bluffs SNA is a good place to look for cream gentian. Maybe I will see you roaming around. After all as Dickens wrote in 1843 (I’m paraphrasing here folks): “and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Flowermas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!”

When you get back indoors, visit these websites for more information on cream gentian: