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Wisconsin Plant of the Week

Gentianella quinquefolia (L.) Small

Gentianaceae (Gentian Family)

Common Name:

stiff gentian, ague-weed


Stiff gentian is a native forb found in calcareous meadows, either wet or dry, and in open woodlands with boulder fields or where bedrock is close to the surface. Plants are usually less than 0.6 m tall and may be tap rooted annuals, biennials or shorted-lived perennials.

Along with the other gentians, stiff gentian is among the last of the prairie flowers to bloom from September through October. Early frosts can prevent seed development so only perennial plants can maintain a population for many years.

Flowers are up to 2 cm long, narrow funnel-shaped and in dense clusters close to the stem.  Their blue to purple color pales next to more common members of the gentian family like fringed gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) or bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii). The  petals are united with 5 lobes and each lobe has a pointed tip.

Like all our plants in the gentian family these have simple, opposite leaves with smooth edges. The leaves are sessile (attached directly to the stem with no stalk). Leaves of stiff gentian are glossy and oval with pointed tips and prominent, nearly parallel veins. The stem is usually red and 4-sided.

Some species in the chickweed family (Caryophyllaceae) have similar leaf characters -- simple, opposite, smooth- edged and sessile -- but the chickweeds bloom earlier in the season and have white to pink flowers.  Most of the gentians are blue to purple.

  • Origin of the name: Gentianella: gentian-like; quiquefolia, quinque, L., five; folium, L. a leaf, refers to the five petals.
  • Range:  Ont., MI to MN, s to MS, e to OH, VA, i.e. Great Lakes and south, but not extending to the east coast or central plains.
  • WI Range:  Statewide except far north
  • Common associates: Paper birch, hazelnut, big-bluestem, rosin weed
  • Wetland Indicator Status: FAC
  • Coefficient of Conservatism: C = 8 (S&W), C = 9 (MI)
  • State Threatened in Michigan
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