A prairie forb with stems to 2½ feet long, either upright or trailing, with stalkless, opposite leaves. Blooms August through October. Flowers are in dense, terminal clusters, or a few from upper leaf axils, to 1½ inches long, always closed, cylindrical. As the flowers mature, their color changes from wine-red through purple to blue. Long-flowering. The flowers look something like large flower buds and are pollinated by bumblebees, which are large and strong enough to push their way through the tiny opening at the tip. Leaves are large, up to 6 inches long, oval to lance-shaped, opposite, appearing whorled, dark green.
Species of Conservation Concern
Height: to about 2½ feet.
Where To Find
Scattered, but rare, throughout most of Missouri.
Occurs in moist prairies, low woods, streamsides, and below bluffs.
This species is critically imperiled in Missouri and has been listed as a Species of Conservation Concern. The main threat to its survival is loss of the wetland habitat it requires—moist prairies, openings in bottomland forests, fens, and similar areas.
Various species of gentians have been used medicinally as tonics and as a flavoring for liquors and for the old-fashioned soda Moxie.
Many herbivores eat this plant. Also, the unique flower permits only bumblebees access, and the plant and its bees benefit each other. The bees gain exclusive access to a trove of nectar, and the flower, with a pollinator focusing on just its species, has better chances for cross-pollination.
About Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Nonwoody Plants in Missouri
A very simple way of thinking about the green world is to divide the vascular plants into two groups: woody and nonwoody (or herbaceous). But this is an artificial division; many plant families include some species that are woody and some that are not. The diversity of nonwoody vascular plants is staggering! Think of all the ferns, grasses, sedges, lilies, peas, sunflowers, nightshades, milkweeds, mustards, mints, and mallows — weeds and wildflowers — and many more!