And A Hundred Miles to the South (Gentians, part 3)

From Grand Mesa we went south about one hundred miles to Telluride. The San Sophia gondola station, at an elevation of about 10,500 feet above sea level, is a great place to start a hike. But great hiking doesn’t necessarily lead to great botanizing. As a matter of fact, in order to find the good stuff you have to slow down. Which I did. At first I saw nothing but alien invasives, the types of plants that colonize open, disturbed areas. Believe me, ski slopes fit the definition of “disturbed”. But then I saw an area crammed full of plants. Figuring there was some groundwater allowing this dense stand, I worked my way carefully up the slope (trying not to step on anything interesting) and started poking about. One of the first things I found was yet another gentian.


autumn dwarf gentian,
northern gentian, felwort
Gentianella amarella subsp. acuta

Some authorities recognize three subspecies of G. amarella. I’m fairly certain from the descriptions on the Southwest Colorado Wildflowers site that this one is subspecies acuta. It’s wide ranging, found in most of the West, upper Midwest, a few occurrences in New England (endangered in Maine and threatened in Vermont), all of Canada, Greenland, Scotland, Finland, China, and maybe more. One of the other sub-species, heterosepala, has a much more limited range: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.


G. amarella subsp. acuta is either annual or biennial (sources differ on this point), growing to a height of no more than 18 inches in the montane and subalpine life zones (in Colorado, anyway). The specimens I found were considerably shorter, not quite hidden in the grass, and well-branched and full of blossoms.


Nineteen Hundred Miles to the West (Gentians, part 2)

Two days after discovering rosepink at Serpentine Barrens Conservation Park, Steve and I were in Grand Junction, Colorado, heading south to Telluride. With most of the day open for exploring, we headed up to Grand Mesa National Forest. And I do mean up – Grand Mesa tops out at 11,332 feet above sea level, or about 6,700 feet above Grand Junction. Many websites claim that it’s the largest flat-topped mountain in the world; even if it isn’t, it covers an impressive 500 square mile area.

It’s certainly a lovely place. We didn’t do much hiking, but I spotted about a dozen different species of wildflowers, including another gentian.


mountain gentian,
Parry’s mountain gentian,
bottle gentian
Gentiana parryi

This is one of only two species of Gentian found in Grand Mesa NF, if I’ve done the research correctly. Its range is limited to the Rocky Mountains from southern Wyoming to northern New Mexico, and parts of Utah and Arizona. It grows in open areas in moist soils, usually in the montane, subalpine, and alpine life zones*.


Mountain gentian is a perennial that grows up to about 18 inches tall, with a terminal cluster of just a few flowers (typically three to five), which bloom from June through September. The flowers remain tightly closed, the tips of the fused petals spreading open only when exposed to enough sun (cloudy days won’t do).

For more information visit the mountain gentian page at the excellent Southwest Colorado Wildflowers site.


*montane: 8,000 to 10,000 feet above sea level
subalpine: 10,000 feet above sea level to timber line (about 12,000 feet)
alpine: above timber line