Biennial whose first year is spent as a basal rosette of leaves; it sends up a flowering stalk the second year. The many opposite branches make it look like a candelabra; stems square and winged. Each flower borne on a stalk arising from upper leaf axils, to 1 inch across, with 5 spreading corolla lobes; pink (in some localities white), with a green or yellow inner ring; delicately scented. Blooms June–September. Leaves opposite, sessile, ovate to lanceolate, lacking teeth, to 1½ inches long.
Similar species: Prairie rose gentian (S. campestris) has the branches in the flower cluster alternate, not opposite; its calyx tube is prominently 5-ribbed or winged (not smooth) and the plant grows only to about 9 inches tall. It is found in prairies, fields, and roadsides, mostly in the southern two-thirds of the state. Marsh pink (S. brachiata) is rare in our state, having been recorded only from Butler County in southeast Missouri.
Height: to 2 feet.
Found in southern, northeastern, and east-central counties.
Habitat and Conservation
Occurs in glades, prairies, upland ridges, fallow fields, margins and openings of woods, thickets, roadsides, and rights-of-way. Usually grows in acid soils.
This showy native wildflower should be used more often in flower gardens. The plants reseed themselves and can have a more or less permanent presence. They prefer fairly acid soil and an open situation. Don’t dig plants from the wild; get them from reputable wildflower nurseries.
Bees, butterflies, and skippers visit the flowers, and at least a few moth or butterfly species use it as their larval food plant.