Plant of the Week
Mountain Bog Gentian (Gentiana Calycosa)
By Charmaine Delmatier, 2014
Also known as Rainier pleated gentian or Explorer’s gentian, mountain bog gentian (Gentiana calycosa) is a native mountain perennial and can be found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California and upwards through the Cascade Mountains of British Columbia and Alberta, Canada. Heading east, it extends into the western United States including Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. There are 87 genera in the family, Gentianaceae, and 1,600 species worldwide. Specifically, in the genus Gentiana, there are about 360 species. Gentiana have as many stamens as petals, and the leaves are usually glabrous. Every mountain hiker will enjoy coming across this lush green herb with its large deep blue flowers.
Associated with open wet environments, mountain bog gentian prefers habitats such as bogs, fens, various wetlands, meadows, and moist riverbanks ranging in altitude from subalpine to alpine. Popular in alpine gardens, its tubular bell-shaped flower is bright-blue to purple and opens into five separate petals speckled with yellow to dark dots. Compared to the egg-shaped sessile leaves, which are arranged oppositely along thinner reddish stems, the corolla can lengths up to 2 inches. The prostrate to upright stems can range in height from 2-18 inches. Between each petal is a conspicuous triangular appendage that divides halfway into two thread-like features. The flowers are in terminal clusters and usually number one to three, but the populations can be locally abundant and provide a glorious display of mountain blue splendor.
Mountain bog gentian derives its origin from Greek and was named after the last king of Illyria; Gentius (181–168 BC). He was defeated by the Romans in ancient southern Europe along the western Balkan Peninsula now known as Albania. According to some ancient Greek historians, it is believed that Gentius was first to use Gentiana for its therapeutic properties. A close relative of mountain bog gentian; the dried mature roots of yellow gentian (Gentiana lutea) have been used by Europeans as an herbal medicine and bitter in teas, tonics, and tinctures since before the millennium. Many alcoholic drinks are garnished with the native bitter taste from dried yellow gentian roots. Gentiana, as a whole, has been used as an anti-inflammatory treatment to improve thyroid function, aid digestion, and treat infection.