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FNA | Family List | FNA Vol. 14 | Gentianaceae | Gentiana

15. Gentiana saponaria Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 1: 228. 1753.

Soapwort gentian

Dasystephana latifolia (Chapman) Small; D. saponaria (Linnaeus) Small; Gentiana cherokeensis (W. P. Lemmon) Fernald; G. elliottii Chapman var. latifolia Chapman

Herbs perennial, 0.7–6.5 dm, usually glabrous, occasionally puberulent on stems only. Stems 1–5, terminal from cau­dex, decumbent to erect. Leaves cauline, ± evenly spaced; blade linear to widely elliptic, 1.5–12 cm × 3–30 mm, apex obtuse to acute. Inflorescences ± dense 1–8-flowered cymes or heads, sometimes with additional cymules on short branches. Flowers: calyx 9–32 mm, lobes spreading nearly horizontally when fresh, narrowly oblanceolate, 4–17 mm, shorter than or ± as long as tube, margins ciliate; corolla blue or rarely rose-violet, tubular, loosely closed to slightly or (in southernmost part of range) almost fully but narrowly open, 30–50 mm, lobes ovate-triangular, 3–7 mm, usually less than 2 mm longer than plicae, free portions of plicae divided 1/2 or more of their length into 2 subequal, erect, ± triangular, lacerate segments; anthers connate. Seeds winged. 2n = 26 (including plants identified as G. saponaria and G. cherokeensis).

Flowering late summer–fall. Mesic to moist open woods, savannas, swamps, fens, roadsides; 0–900(–1200) m; Ala., Ark., Del., D.C., Fla., Ga., Ill., Ind., Ky., La., Md., Mich., Miss., N.J., N.Y., N.C., Ohio, Okla., Pa., S.C., Tenn., Tex., Va., W.Va.

Gentiana saponaria is believed to be extirpated from the District of Columbia. Reports from west of the range given here have been based mostly on spec­imens of G. andrewsii × G. puberulenta, occasionally on G. flavida × G. puberulenta or other hybrids. Some reports from the northeastern United States, including all records from Vermont and upstate New York, were based on specimens of G. clausa that antedate the recog­nition of that species in standard floras. Other reports have been based on misidentified G. linearis.

The name Gentiana puberula Michaux is typified by a specimen of G. saponaria but has generally been misapplied to G. puberulenta.

Plants from the northern parts of the range of Gentiana saponaria tend to have corollas more nearly closed than those from the southern parts of the range, but their corollas are not so firmly closed as those of G. clausa, the corolla lobes are larger, the summits of the plicae are usually more or less visible in herbarium specimens, and the shape of the calyx lobes is distinctively different. Plants of G. saponaria in the southernmost part of its range tend to have somewhat larger and more open corollas, approaching G. catesbaei in these respects, but they differ in their elliptic rather than ovate leaves and calyx lobes mostly shorter than or about as long as the tube rather than longer. Plants from bog and lake-shore habitats in Watauga County, North Carolina, at 1200 m, above the usual altitudinal range of G. saponaria, have attracted interest because of their linear to narrowly elliptic leaves mostly 3–9 mm wide. Their calyx and corolla morphology strongly supports their inclusion in G. saponaria, as does the occurrence of occasional plants with wider leaves in the same populations. Plants with similarly narrow leaves occur elsewhere in the range of G. saponaria and include those that have been identified as G. cherokeensis.

The epithet saponaria refers to a resemblance of the stems and leaves of this species to those of soapwort or bouncing-bet, Saponaria officinalis (Caryophyllaceae). Soaplike substances were not obtained from the gentian, so the invention of “soap gentian” as a common name is not appropriate.

Gentiana saponaria hybridizes with G. andrewsii relatively frequently in the Ohio Valley and occasion­ally elsewhere. Hybrids with G. catesbaei, G. clausa, G. decora, and G. puberulenta are also known.


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