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

My Year of the Gentians (part 1)

Earlier this year I was thrilled to spot my first gentian family species, pennywort (Obolaria virginica), at Rachel Carson Conservation Park. Then last week, I found three more gentian family species, one at Serpentine Barrens Conservation Park, and the other two in Colorado. More on those in the next two posts.


rosepink, bitterbloom,
rose gentian,
American centaury
Sabatia angularis


Of the nineteen or so species of Sabatia native to the US, five can be found in Maryland. Of those five, only this one is widespread across the state; the other four are mostly limited to the coastal plain. Two of those are listed as S1/endangered.

Rosepink is a biennial, growing a basal rosette of leaves in its first year and sending up a flowering stalk in its second. The plant reaches to a height of about two and a half feet, with flowers up to an inch and a half across open from July through September. Look for rosepink in meadows and woodland clearings with moist to dry, acidic soils. The two specimens I found were sheltering under the outermost edges of an eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana) in a power line right-of-way.


This species ranges from Ontario south into northern Florida, east to New York (with some occurrences in Massachusetts and Connecticut), and southwest into eastern Texas and Oklahoma. It’s threatened in Michigan and endangered in New York.




Obolaria virginica

You know how birders keep “life lists” of their sightings? I have a life list of wildflower finds. I was delighted to add three new plants to it earlier this week, after visiting Rachel Carson Conservation Park: pinxter azalea, pennywort, and an orchid.

…and that’s about the most interesting thing I can say about pennywort. It’s a low-growing forb of moist woodlands, ranging from Texas northeast into Pennsylvania. There are no conservation issues. Obolaria is a monotypic genus (meaning there are no other species of Obolaria). I saw no other pennywort plants in the area.

“Pennywort”, by the way, is a popular name; there are quite a few plants (entirely unrelated to each other) that are called “pennywort”.

That’s all, folks. Tomorrow: the orchid. You can see a bud peeking up behind the pennywort in the photo above.