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.