A Yellow Giant: Gentiana lutea

Some of you may be surprised to find out that the following image belongs to a gentian, but it’s true. This is Gentiana lutea (Yellow gentian, Bitter Root), native to the mountainous regions of central and southern Europe (Carpathians, Alps, Pyrenees…), where usually grows in alpine and sub-alpine meadows on calcareous soils. It is a tall perennial, reaching 1-2 m, with large leaves arranged in a basal rosette until flowering. The yellow flowers are atypical for a gentian, with corolla deeply divided in 5-7 narrow petals, and disposed in terminal and axillary clusters.

Gentiana lutea

Gentiana lutea flowers

Gentiana lutea has been used for centuries as a medicinal plant, and to flavour alcoholic drinks commonly known as bitters, which are very common and widely used in Germany, France, Switzerland and Italy. For this purpose, the roots and rhizomes are collected in late fall and dried, practice that has lead to over-collecting and brought the species to endangered lists in many countries. The principal medicinal use of the yellow gentian is for digestive disorders due to its bitter compounds, among which the gentiopicrin, is one of the most bitter natural compounds known.

Apart for its medicinal virtues, it is an impressive perennial, a focal point for a sunny perennial garden. It is a rare find, so hurry up and spread the word! Flowers in June-July or in July-August at high elevations. Needless to say that it is very hardy. Propagation has to be done by seed.

Gentiana lutea

Gentiana lutea in the Display Garden at Lost Horizons

Of botanical interest: Despite its atypical flowers Gentiana lutea it is the type species of the genus Gentiana! [The generic type is a representative species that is selected when a genus is described].

I’ll have more on Gentiana lutea, as the few seeds I collected from the Carpathians Mts. will germinate (fingers crossed) and also I hope I’ll manage to collect more seeds in the future.

Meanwhile,  you can see the yellow giant in flower by visiting the Lost Horizons Display Garden in July (and sometimes a few plants are available for sale).

Fatal attraction: Arisaema triphyllum ‘Black Jack’

While trying to write a post about Cornus kousa ‘Gold Cup’, halfway through it I had to switch to the Arisaema triphyllum ‘Black Jack’. Truth is I have a fatal attraction toward the Jack-in-the-pulpits, one that’s going to last. This small, purple leaf Jack showed its sassy spathe from beneath a patch of weeds gone wild when I was weeding around the stock beds last week: Yeah, I’m here, where have you been until now? Sorry, I was really busy, it will never happen again… and being a plant of forgiving nature, it allowed me to take its picture.

Arisaema triphyllum ‘Black Jack’

It is the only deep purple leaf Arisaema that I know of in cultivation. I read that it was discovered by the plant hunter Bob McCartney in Florida (!), and although it is given by some as hardy to zone 6. It shows up later than the regular Arisaema triphyllum, usually at the same time with the Chinese A. ciliatum and A. consanguineum. The foliage is deep purple, shiny with a greenish back, and the inflorescence has the same deep purple colour with green veins. Strikingly different!

Arisaema triphyllum ‘Black Jack’ in the stock bed at Lost Horizons

It grows up to 12” and will slowly form a patch. What I love even more is the fact that is a sport of our native Jack-in-the-pulpit, so it proves that it doesn’t have to be Chinese or Japanese to be different. Probably more native natural occurring varieties await to be discovered, and not only of Arisaema. So start hiking – go exploring!